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More by JohnB - Living the final years of the Catholic Cover up

Opinion Church can't keep pleading ignorance
Bookmark and Share      Created: 2010-08-12 08:59:20   Last updated : 2011-05-11 14:04:02

Complacency is the biggest risk to our kids, writes Peter Gogarty.

ON Monday, 35 victims and 14 years later, Catholic priest Vince Ryan was driven away from jail.

He is on parole and is subject to a number of strict monitoring conditions, but he is free. We cannot know for sure, but it is fair to assume that for many of his victims the torment resulting from what Ryan did goes on.

One mother, whose son sadly committed suicide, said on Monday that she was feeling numb and that she didn't think the Catholic Church would ever recover from what it did to children.

Pedophile priest Vincent Ryan

Today there are dozens of other Catholic priests in Australia and around the world who did what Ryan did and who remain in jail.

In their wake are thousands of decent people whose lives have been destroyed or irrevocably damaged by the institution to which they had entrusted their lives and their souls.

Compounding the tragedy and the crime is that people in high places within the Catholic Church knew what was going on.

Diocese after diocese and country after country the story is the same.Offending priests moved from parish to parish. Vicars-general, bishops and cardinals helping criminals to escape justice - moving them to new areas where they could take up where they had left off.

Protection of the image of the Catholic Church was paramount, and abused children became little more than collateral damage.

When the crimes of these priests became public, the Church went to extraordinary lengths to protect itself. Demonising victims, threatening lawsuits, strict "in-house" investigations, official denials and papal directives about complaints handling. When this approach started to unravel, we saw the Church moved to plead ignorance and claim naivety about these matters.

We have also seen one of the most senior Australian Catholic clerics, Adelaide's Archbishop Wilson, talking about his knowledge of the activities of priests Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher, saying that he may have been naive and that he just did not think such things were possible.

We saw the establishment of them is named "Towards Healing" process - a system designed to manage claims in-house and to keep victims quiet. Little in the way of genuine healing was offered.

My own experience of the process left me in a worse state than when I first approached it. It was only after the personal intervention of Bishop Michael Malone that my journey to healing began.

So what are the lessons learned?

The first is that the Catholic Church has attained a privileged position where some of the rules of society can be largely ignored.

For you and me, ignorance of the law is no defence. In NSW we can be convicted for failing to report mistreatment of a child, for failing to protect the welfare of those in our care and for being partly responsible for the misdeeds of those in our employ. To date, the Catholic Church in Australia has used the "ignorance" defence to great effect - only one cleric has ever been convicted for concealing the crimes of a paedophile priest.

We have also learnt that a paedophile priest can easily trap his bishop into silence.

The "sanctity" of the confessional remains as strict as ever. A priest thinking that he has been found out or who is confronted, merely has to say "forgive me Father for I have sinned" in order to escape sanction and to consign his bishop to impotent accomplice.

Another lesson is that the Catholic Church cannot be trusted to fix the problem itself. Its protestations that things are different now, that it has learnt its lesson, and that victims are its top priority are regularly discredited out of the very mouths of those in its highest positions.

At the very least, the continued "in-house" approach to victim healing and compensation will always carry the public perception of Church self-interest.

Finally, compellingly, we have learnt that complacency is the biggest risk to our children. As ordinary members of the community we need to stop thinking that this is not our problem, and we need to get directly involved.

You personally need to watch out for the children you know. You personally need to write to the attorney-general telling him that you demand an independent inquiry into the behaviour of the Catholic Church, and that an independent body must take responsibility for looking after victims and determining compensation.

If you and I fail to do this, then we should not be surprised if one day somebody says to us "Why didn't you look after me?"

Peter Gogarty was a victim of late paedophile priest Jim Fletcher.;jsessionid=8D9D714D26E147A036429C40E202C077?sy=nstore&pb=all_ffx&dt=selectRange&dr=1month&so=relevance&sf=text&sf=headline&rc=10&rm=200&sp=brs&cls=17574&clsPage=1&docID=NCH100811NP4GJ5JBO0M

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Myth #2 - Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.

Pedophiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are pedophiles.

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