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acknowledgement, justice and reparation

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George Pell acts as support to Gerald Risdale at court proceedings, 1993

From Pharyngula, and also from a comment in Butterflies and Wheels, my attention has suddenly been directed to the abuse of children and the moving on of Catholic priests in Australia. Not that I haven’t been aware of this problem, which I’m sure I’ve written about before, but in dealing with it head-on it’s hard to know where to start. Broken Rites Australia, a support organisation for victims of Catholic sexual abuse, provides lots of useful information on recent and relatively ancient cases, including one which is currently in the news, and being reported and commented on as far afield as the above-mentioned blogs.

What I’m interested in focusing on is the response of the RCC. The recent publicity is around calls for further inquiries about the behaviour of a brother Robert Best, and the behaviour of the RCC in response to his behaviour, and those of others [including notorious paedophile Father Gerald Risdale] which pretty well amounted to a paedophile ring in country Victoria schools in the late sixties through to the eighties. Best was first charged in 1996 and his latest court appearance was last month. During this fifteen-year period he has been supported by the Christian Brothers, and he’s still a member of that club as far as I know. They’ve spent quite a considerable sum in defending him over that time, and in paying off victims. Over that time, too the accusations began to pile up, and Best eventually gave up pretending by changing his plea from not guilty to guilty. Incredibly,he was given a suspended sentence at his first trial in 1996, in spite of the monstrous abuse of trust involved, and his position of authority [he was school principal at the time]. The judge also noted that Best ‘showed no remorse’. But the guilty verdict encouraged other victims to come forward, and they’ve been coming forward ever since.

But the most horrendous ‘statistic’ to come out of the Best case is the number of suicides linked to Best’s decades of abuse. Detective Sergeant Kevin Carson uncovered no less than twenty-six cases of suicide in investigating the case. He didn’t go out of his way to look for them, he pointed out. Is this a case of mass-murder? Well, of course not – it was their decision to top themselves after all. And yet. A bit of counselling might have helped, but the RCC was too busy supporting its own while denying all knowledge.

So given this sort of activity and its devastating consequences, it’s only natural that the public might want some questions answered, such as how could this behaviour have gone undetected for so long? What support has been provided and is being provided to the victims by the responsible organisation [the Christian Brothers, or the RCC]? What justification could there be for paying the court expenses of these perpetrators, and seeking to defend them vigorously? What is actually in place to prevent this sort of thing being repeated, given the RCC’s pattern of moving perpetrators on and hiding their guilt from other potential victims? So the response of Bishop of Ballarat Peter Connors to the possibility of an enquiry – that it would be surplus to requirements -seems almost designed to enrage. Surely it’s not unreasonable to assume that the suicides, the depression, the damage that this paedophile ring has left behind might be as much related to the Church’s response as to the acts themselves, and surely our knowledge of other dioceses, most notably in Ireland, has raised suspicions about the Church having really changed, or changed sufficiently, in its dealings with perpetrators and victims. Furthermore, a public enquiry could act like a Truth and Reconciliation tribunal, allowing people to have their suffering publicly acknowledged, to have ‘their day in court’. The Church, which likes to depict itself as an expert on ‘healing’, often seems blissfully unaware of what victims need in order to overcome what has been done to them. Acknowledgement, justice and reparation seem to me to be the big three. A public enquiry might help achieve the first, reinforce the second, and set consistent terms to the third. I’d be all for it.

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Written by stewart henderson

August 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

Posted in religion

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