|Father Tom Knowles performing Mass|
If you are still under the impression that the Catholic Church under Pope 'Uncle' Frankie has seen the error of its ways and is determined to make amends for its past crimes, this news from Australia should disavow you of that delusion.
It concerns the abuse over a fourteen-year period of a disabled Sydney woman, Jennifer Herrick, by Fr Tom Knowles, then her family priest. Jennifer Herrick, who was 22 when the abuse began, suffered from congenital bilateral hip dysplasia causing her to walk with a highly unusual gait. Consequently, she was a shy girl who found social contact difficult. Father Knowles had begun grooming her from the age of 19 at his church, Our Lady of Dolours, in Chatswood, Sydney. Despite his vow of celibacy, he first began using her for sex from the age of 22. According to his victim, the abuse was often hurried, aggressive and painful, and, according to her psychologist, Ana Grant, has left her traumatised and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last Sunday the Church issued a public apology to Ms Herrick, saying:
On behalf of the Australian Province of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation, I wish to apologise to Jennifer Herrick for the pain and suffering she experienced.
The congregation of St Francis Church on Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria, will also be told that their former parish priest had been defrocked some time ago, the first in Australia to be defrocked for having a long-term "inappropriate sexual relationship".
I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. It is very disturbing to know that in some cases bishops even were abusers. I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.But it is not the belated apology and public acceptance of its responsibility for the actions of the Catholic Church's priests that is instructive here. What is revealing is the fact that it has taken until now for them to do so and the lengths they went to to avoid it.
Ms Herrick first made her complaint again Fr. Knowles and three other senior members of his Catholic Order in 2013, but her complaint was initially registered in 2011. The Church's 2013 approach was to deny legal liability using the so-called 'Ellis defence' that basically argues that the Church is not responsible for the conduct of its priests. The mea non culpa, or hand-washing defence!
It was the church's attitude - and their refusal to accept that I was abused - that prompted me to fight. I decided they needed to be accountable. They just wanted to give me some money and for me to go away.They then argued that her case had no merit because she had earlier accepted a confidential settlement and had signed a confidentiality agreement (a gagging agreement) under the Church's own internal complaint-handling procedure, 'Towards Healing', in 2011 - a fact which makes their subsequent 'Ellis defence' look decidedly disingenuous. However, as the Royal Commission currently looking at sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults has accepted, this form or settlement is wholly on terms dictated by the Church's and not by the victim. Ms Herrick says she signed the agreement under 'extreme duress' and did not recognise the seriousness of his actions nor the impact they had on her life.
|Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart. |
Reversed decision to reinstate Knowles after bad publicity.
That decision was only over-ruled by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart when the Sunday Age newspaper printed a front page photo of Knowles performing mass alongside an article on Ms Herrick's abuse and campaign for redress. Concern over bad publicity for the Catholic Church was far more important than concern for the victims of its priests.
Finally, Ms Herrick had to go the the New South Wales Supreme Court to get redress, a case which the Church continued to defend to the bitter end. While this case was in progress, Fr Knowles was quietly defrocked in what what was tantamount to an admission of the Church's culpability, yet this was kept secret from Ms Herrick who was still allowed to continue her case in what must have added further to her trauma.
And this is a church the head of which has publicly said was wrong to abuse and then cover up that abuse, and has declared is determined to all in its power to reform and make amends. That doesn't include lessening the trauma of its victims as it uses every legal and procedural device at its disposal to avoid its responsibility to make adequate redress, apparently.
How different the Pope's public words are to the reality of his clerics' actions.