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on the allegations of John Hepworth: part two

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Hepworth meets Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

At the moment, the case surrounding the allegations made by John Hepworth is at something of an impasse, with two very senior religious figures in the spotlight, neither willing to back down, and having everything to lose if they did. It would seem obvious that one of them is lying [Hepworth himself has said that it comes down to one person’s word against another] – but maybe not. A lot of recent scientific research has shown that there is virtually no correlation between our certitude about a specific memory and the accuracy of that memory. Could Hepworth have convinced himself of events that didn’t actually occur, or could he have mistaken the identity of the perpetrator?

We should remember though that Hepworth’s allegations haven’t been confined to Dempsey. He has claimed that he was repeatedly raped by three priests from 1960, when he was fifteen. Two of those priests, Pickering and Stockdale, were serial sexual abusers whose guilt appears more than likely [though with the Catholic hierarchy’s addiction to secrecy, it’s unlikely anyone else will get to examine the evidence]. Pickering’s activities were particularly egregious, and he was protected by the Church for decades before being finally exposed. The identity of the third priest is unclear, but apparently it wasn’t Dempsey. Hepworth has also claimed that he was sexually abused by others during his seminarian years, which suggests a climate of abuse, a climate all too common within the Catholic clerical system. In his essay ‘Religion and violence’, Tamas Pataki considers the forces that create such a climate:

…both the [Catholic] Church doctrine and organisation, especially the teaching and the practice in the training institutions, are causally implicated in the character malformations that are likely to lead to [child sexual] abuse…. The Church is a hierarchical and authoritarian institution that organises relationships through dominance and submission. The aspirant who wants to get ahead knows he has to submit to his father-bishop and mother-Church. That structure of dominance encourages sadomasochistic modes of relating and, of course, attracts people with such needs. It is likely to stimulate rage and cruelty in one direction, combined with submissive, inhibited attitudes in another. These attitudes, reinforced by Church teaching valorising suffering, may lead to the victimisation of powerless young individuals, and indifference to their suffering. The institutions are also infantilising in recreating structures of dependency: the priest’s feeling of powerlessness in relation to the seemingly omnipotent parental representatives may be countered by a reversal in which the child abuse is an unconscious attempt to identify with omnipotence while projecting his own powerlessness onto the victim.

This strikes me as a cogent account of the kinds of abusive relations described, for example, in Colm O’Gorman’s Beyond Belief, and elsewhere. It’s worth noting, apropos of  this idea of the valorisation of suffering, that Dempsey, in a recent open letter to his Brighton parishioners, compared his sufferings under these allegations to the suffering of Jesus and Mary Mackillop. Bad taste, but very Catholic.

There are many vociferously held positions on side issues to this case – the use of parliamentary privilege, the presumption of innocence, the impact on various careers [besides those of the immediate protagonists], the abstrusuosities of sectarian politics and so forth – but I’m trying to keep my focus on two main issues [while recognising that those side issues are by no means irrelevant] . First, whether or not the allegations are likely to be true, and second, whether or not the Catholic Church is doing its utmost to find out whether or not the allegations are true.

On the first issue, little can really be said. Hepworth says that Dempsey raped him ‘several times’ and Dempsey stoutly denies it all. It’s pretty well certain that one of them is lying, and I have no idea which one. However, serial rapists usually have more than one victim in their profile. Nobody else has made a claim against Dempsey, though his name, associated with these alleged crimes, has only been in the public domain for a fortnight or so. Time may bring more to light.

However, I’m bugged, as I trawl through newspaper reports of the allegations, by their lack of clarity as they pertain to Dempsey. Christopher Pearson wrote this in The Australian on September 17:

Since The Weekend Australian broke the story last Saturday of Archbishop John Hepworth’s allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of two dead priests and one still serving in the Adelaide archdiocese, there have been all sorts of spin and further revelations. Politicians from the main parties have latched on to the idea that the proper course of action for Hepworth from the outset was to make his accusations against the still serving priest, Monsignor Ian Dempsey, to the police.

From this passage, it seems clear that Dempsey  was the third priest involved in a series of rapes over twelve years, beginning at age fifteen. A number of reports also use the term ‘violence’ in association with these rapes. But Andrew Bolt’s account in the Herald Sun on September 24, taken from stories Hepworth told to The Australian and to the ABC, presents a very different story. Here is the story told to The Australian:

Hepworth says he was at least 24 years old when X allegedly raped him; X was one year older. This is not the stereotype of an older priest intimidating a boy. He told The Australian he’d been invited to the beach one night by two priests, one of whom “stripped off and began wrestling with me”.”He was stronger than me,” Hepworth said. “Or perhaps I was just weary of it all … I remember cold, wet sand and forced sex.” But then comes a caveat: “I want to state quite clearly that I never fully consented to sexual activity …” Never “fully” consented? What does that mean? In fact, Hepworth describes his reaction hours later as not one of anger, but guilt: “I had an awareness of the illegality of homosexuality, a sense of gross sinfulness, but also a sense of the glamour of the group with which I had been involved.”
To the ABC Hepworth tells another ambiguous story:

ABC: Why were you unable to stop it?

Hepworth: Even though I was six foot two and I was fairly light in those days, but I always thought myself a very small person, very weak person. I was trying to befriend a few people, priests. I think it was out of a sense of loneliness, also a sense of an effort to belong. And then the experiences of (his past abuse) particularly, of overtures that I couldn’t resist and didn’t know how to, repeated itself a number of times. And when I had come close to people whose company I found thrilling, entertaining, invigorating and then these events happened, I think I was confusing the expectation of sex almost with friendship.

ABC: Does that mean that the people with which you were involved in these episodes would have thought that you had consented?

Hepworth: No. I would say things that were negative. No, not this. No, don’t . . . I don’t believe anybody could have thought I was consenting. I was taken advantage of.

Clearly this is no simple case of rape with violence, as may well have been the case with Pickering and Stockdale, when Hepworth was much younger. If this is an accurate account of Hepworth’s remarks, then it becomes rather more clear why Hepworth didn’t wish to take the matter to the police.
Having said this, an allegation of rape is a criminal allegation. Pearson, in his September 17 article, has this to say on the matter:

Cappo, acting on Wilson’s behalf, had told Hepworth “if he was alleging any form of abuse, including rape, that this is a criminal allegation and that he should go to the police”. But should he? Since 2007 Hepworth has said that he wasn’t interested in retribution or compensation but in reconciliation with the Catholic Church. As Wilson, a canon lawyer, must know, the church has stand-alone internal procedures to investigate and resolve such cases.

Pearson gets it very, very wrong here. Cappo and Wilson were right to urge Hepworth to go to the police, and indeed, given the heinous nature of the alleged crimes, they had a duty to report the matter to the police themselves, just as a priest who is told of a crime in the course of Catholic confession has a duty, or should have a duty, to report this crime to the police. This is because the criminal must be brought to justice. Pearson writes of Hepworth not being interested in retribution or compensation, but he neglects to mention justice. Perpetrators of violent rape need to be brought to justice for two clear-cut reasons. First to protect the public from any further attacks of this kind, and second, to uphold and constantly reiterate community standards of behaviour. To say, for example, that these events occurred more than forty years ago, so that there is now no longer any danger to the community from this person, is like saying we shouldn’t bring ex-Nazi war criminals to justice because they’re now too decrepit to harm a flea. It misses the point completely. And Catholic canon law most definitely doesn’t dispense justice, especially in the area of child sexual abuse, as Geoffrey Robertson’s book The Case of the Pope comprehensively argues.

It of course sounds rather harsh to say that victims of rape are derelict in their duty if they don’t report the crime to the police. Of course we have to be sensitive, we don’t want to punish the victims further, but we should encourage them into a state in which they recognise, above all else, the irresponsibility, and the danger to others, of not reporting.

Of course, I’m talking of clear-cut cases of rape here. There are other cases that aren’t so clear-cut and there’s a corresponding lack of certainty as to whether it’s a police matter. But Pearson isn’t looking at the Hepworth matter as a possibly fuzzy, borderline set of situations, he’s making the usual outrageous Catholic claim that their canon law is adequate to deal with this matter, in spite of mountains of evidence [made up of heaps of victims] to the contrary.

This brings me to the second issue, the way the Catholic Church, and in particular the Adelaide Archdiocese, has dealt with this matter. There’s a huge amount of conflict on this, and I’m not sure that I have the heart to try to sort it out. It does seem though that Hepworth is annoyed that the matter of Dempsey hasn’t been dealt with by the Adelaide archdiocese as expeditiously as the matters of Stockdale and Pickering were dealt with under other religious jurisdictions. Apart from the friendship between Pell and Hepworth, which would have helped, the fact is that when these matters were raised by Hepworth both of the accused were conveniently dead, their reputations already thoroughly trashed. Dempsey, who has been awarded the Order of Australia, seems a very different sort of person. Hepworth also denies that the Adelaide Archdiocese was given the go-ahead to investigate only in February this year. Under the Catholic Church’s ‘towards healing’ system for dealing with allegations of abuse, no investigations can take place without the victim’s express permission. In any case, given the nature of Hepworth’s testimony to The Australian and the ABC as quoted above, and given Dempsey’s categorical denials and the lack of corroborating evidence on both sides, it’s hard to see how the Adelaide Archdiocese would be able to make much progress in its investigations.

Or is it?

Broken Rites Australia, a support organisation for victims of Catholic priestly sexual abuse, has this intriguing account of the sorry saga of Hepworth’s experience. It accords well with the psychological description by Pataki quoted earlier, of a world of men, committed to celibacy, that ‘most unnatural of the sexual perversions’ as Aldous Huxley described it, and to love for a heavenly father, in a hierarchical system that is exclusive, elitist and both homophobic and homosexual in outlook. This description captures something of the helpless, heady confusion:

“Throughout the abuse, says Hepworth, he felt violated, fearful and confused. He liked the circle in which his abusers moved. There was money, and talk of music, the arts and culture. So he went along with it, but not, he says, by choice. He had been only 15 when it all started in Stockdale‘s rooms at the Adelaide seminary where he had been given alcohol and then violently raped.  “In some way, he says, he knew no other life. And he was afraid of their threats that if he revealed what went on within the circle he would be expelled from the seminary. His parents would find out. There would be shame and ruination…”

It’s hard to investigate generations of hypocrisy, distortion of feeling, and destructive, stunted relationships just to get to the bottom of one case. Hepworth himself seems motivated largely by a desire to reunite with the Catholic Church, to put the past behind him and to uphold the true Catholic position of righteous homophobia. And so the hypocrisy and the secrecy will inevitably continue. In naming Dempsey, Xenophon said that the Catholic Church ‘only had itself to blame’ for its predicament. Perhaps he spoke a greater truth than he knew.

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Written by stewart henderson

September 24, 2011 at 11:38 am

Posted in crime, politics, religion

2 Responses

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  1. re para 1, there is a third option, that the events occurred consensually and Hepworth has been traumatised by his role in homosexual acts so that he has come to believe he didn’t consent.
    Para 2 – ditch Para 1 !!! whether or not hep had homosexual leanings doesn’t matter, he was done over right left and centre. That’s where the word fag comes from I believe, the little boys at corrupt british public schools had to work for the seniors in every menial way possible, including use of their bodies. When they were older and hardened to this abuse, they perpetrated it on juniors themselves. Seems the seminarians were treated in like manner, probably routinely, which could mean not too many escaped unviolated. More later when I read on.

    Sarah

    September 26, 2011 at 7:53 am

    • Yes this all accords with the quote from Tamaki. It’s been a common feature in every all-male authoritarian institution – in public schools, in Catholic seminaries, and in the military [I’ve been reading about how the Persians developed an interest in pederasty from ancient Greek military practices some 2500 years ago…]. Looking forward to further comments.

      luigifun

      September 26, 2011 at 10:11 pm


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