Sunday, 03 February 2013

Let the light shine in

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Peter Hoysted has trawled through some Australian Catholic Church history and what he found will sicken you. Not just rampant child abuse by “shining lights” of the Church, but a systemic and systematic cover-up. (TRIGGER WARNING)

The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse is due to commence its hearings. The next three years will be a trying time in Australia. Firstly, for the Commissioners who face a gruelling challenge to investigate the breadth and depth of this evil, to the victims who will lay their lives bare in public and finally, to all Australians who will learn of some of the nation’s darkest secrets.

This is a bleak episode of Australian social history and it is crucial that, when the Commission’s investigations end, we have a proper understanding of what has taken place and a clear view on how to proceed so that what happened can never happen again. 

The Royal Commission will investigate institutionalised child sex abuse in government and non-government welfare agencies, education departments, sporting and social organisations and religious organisations. 

The six Commissioners, led by NSW Supreme Court Judge Peter McClellan, have been asked to provide an interim report by June 2014 and a final report by December 2015, although the final deadline may be extended.

The Roman Catholic Church has no monopoly on institutionalised child sex abuse, but it is clear that it is the dominant culprit. In the words of Father Kevin Dillon from St Mary’s Parish, Geelong: “Certainly there’s no doubt that this goes across different organisations and different denominations and within the wider community. But there’s also no denying that we’re the clubhouse leaders by far and that pains me to say that, but we can’t run away from that.”

The Royal Commission’s investigations will find that, within the Roman Catholic Church, there were pockets of paedophile activity in religious orders and dioceses that were tacitly allowed to continue their evil business, leading to what can only be described as an epidemic of paedophilia in Australia. 

The Maitland and Newcastle diocese has a miserable history where victims number in the hundreds. One priest in the Hunter Valley was convicted and jailed after sexually abusing 39 schoolboys aged from five to 16 years old over 20 years ago. There is an ongoing police investigation in the diocese and more priests will stand trial. 

But nowhere in Australia has this epidemic of paedophilia been as pronounced or as wide spread as it has been in the Ballarat diocese. 

There is not a country town in western Victoria unaffected by it. Places like Horsham, Stawell, Ararat, Apollo Bay, Warrnambool, Mildura and Ballarat itself now bear the scars, the pain and the trauma of decades of abuse perpetrated by paedophile priests. The victims number in the thousands. 

The epidemic of paedophilia in the Ballarat diocese was driven by Father Gerard Ridsdale, who is due for parole this year after serving thirteen years in jail and, arguably, the worst perpetrator of them all, Monsignor John Day. Day died in 1978, unrepentant and unpunished. 

Ridsdale has acknowledged that his victims number in the hundreds. Day was at least as prolific; hundreds of victims and tens of thousands of offences. He was an active paedophile for five decades. He was based at Ballarat for three years, Colac for four years, Ararat for nine years, Horsham for two years, Beech Forest for two years, Apollo Bay for three years and Mildura for fourteen years. 

In my view, Day stands as the worst sex offender in Australian criminal history. 

Many of his victims cannot come forward. Some have committed suicide, others have descended into a fog of alcoholism and drug abuse. Some remain so deeply traumatised that they are unable to acknowledge the crimes perpetrated upon them. These were young lives rent asunder, emotional development halted, love of school and education abruptly curtailed. 

Others are willing to speak out. They tell tales so sordid it almost beggars belief. In one instance, one victim spoke of being sodomised at nine years of age. While he lay in a crumpled heap, bleeding and crying, Day raped another boy in front of him. 

Day was a tub-thumping hypocrite of the lowest order. With his cassock stained from the forced attentions of an altar boy, Day would then hold Mass and harangue congregations, warning of the loss of morality in society. He used the pulpit to rant about the shamelessness of bikini clad girls at Bondi Beach, of uncontrolled youth deporting themselves in brazen fashion. 

Day was an empire builder and thus greatly valued within the Ballarat diocese. In each and every parish he purported to serve, parishioners were exhorted for money. Church building funds were established, churches were built and existing churches torn down, with vast edifices for the glory of the Roman Catholic Church constructed in their place. 

Today, the Sacred Heart Church in Mildura looks more like a cathedral than a parish church and its vastness is due almost entirely to the exhortations for money from Monsignor Day. 

For those not acquainted with the Catholic hierarchy, Day was a Monsignor – in military terms, a Colonel in the Church. His crimes were known to the diocesan Bishop, James Patrick O’Collins, now deceased. Despite this knowledge, O’Collins promoted Day in Mildura – first to Dean and then to Monsignor; a step away from controlling a diocese and bearing the beretta of a bishop. 

Day appears in a publication to commemorate the centenary of the Catholic Church in Mildura. He is praised for his work in building the new church and purchasing land around it. In the penultimate paragraph, the only acknowledgment of Day’s depravity appears as a breathtaking piece of euphemism: 

“Later extreme hurt, pain and disappointment caused by some aspects of Father Day’s life surfaced amongst Mildura parishioners.”

When Day died, he was eulogised by then Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, who praised Day for his “humble magnificence”. 

The Catholic Church has apologised. The Pope has apologised. The Church’s senior clerics, archbishops and bishops have offered apologies of one type or another. But what are they apologising for? 

The apologies take the form of expressions of sorrow and regret for aberrant priests disgracing themselves and causing hurt and pain among parishioners. 

What has not been acknowledged is that the church has covered up the crimes of priests like Day and Ridsdale. When complaints were made to bishops, priests were simply moved on – placed in new parishes and let loose on unsuspecting communities. 

In 1962 the Vatican issued an instruction to all bishops, archbishops and prelates. It is known as Crimens sollicitationis or the crime of soliciting. The document was to be kept under lock and key. It was designed to facilitate action under Canon or church law for any priest who would seek to solicit sex from parishioners or in the general community. 

In the document is a section referred to as Crimen Pessimum, or the foulest crimes, defined as “any external obscene act, gravely sinful, perpetrated or attempted by a cleric in any way with pre-adolescent children of either sex or with brute animals.”

The document outlines action to be taken by a senior cleric when these charges come to light. A tribunal of priests could be assembled, the accused tried and action taken. In certain circumstances a priest could be defrocked, although there are no records indicating that this occurred in the Ballarat Diocese. There is no reference to cooperating with police or other investigative bodies, although the process outlined in the document does not forbid this. 

In reality, when any such action was taken, all clerics involved in the process were sworn to silence for a lengthy period thus rendering the likelihood of a police investigation improbable. It also left those involved in the process liable for charges of misprision of a felony or being accessories after the fact. 

In the arcane and secretive manner of the Roman Catholic Church, we cannot be sure if Day, Ridsdale or any other paedophile priest has been tried under Canon law. 

It is sometimes remarked that one of the primary reasons for the prolific number of paedophile priests is due to the vows of chastity that a priest takes; an overt act of sexual repression that bubbles away only to find expression in paedophilia. Take the vow of chastity away and the problem would largely be solved. 

This is a gross oversimplification. Had priests engaged in consensual sex with other adults, we would not be so concerned and they would have committed no crime under the law of the land. 

The reality is that Catholic priests like Day and Ridsdale committed their crimes on children because they could. They held power over children and implicitly understood that they could commit acts of gross indecency, sexual assault, sodomy and rape on children with impunity.

The Roman Catholic Church’s response in this sad period in Australian history was invariably directed at avoiding reputational damage. The unwillingness or the inability of the Church to confront its paedophile priests and assist in bringing them before the courts has been the major contributing factor in creating the epidemic of paedophilia in post-war Australia. 

As the Royal Commission commences its investigations, what will alarm many is the depth of collusion between the Roman Catholic Church and law enforcement agencies in ensuring paedophile priests were not brought to account. 

In my research, I discovered a Methodist minister who was convicted of child sex offences in Melbourne in 1958 and sentenced to 12 years jail. Yet, with the epidemic of paedophilia within the Catholic Church, the first priest to be convicted of child sex offences anywhere in Australia, Michael Glennon, occurred twenty years later. It would be another 15 years before Gerard Ridsdale became the second, in 1993. 

One might assume that this is due to the efficacy of the Church’s officers in covering up for offending priests and, to a degree, this is accurate; but in the not so long ago days of sectarian Australia, elements in our police forces loyal to the Church did their utmost to ensure that priests would not be charged. 

It is a sad fact that Monsignor John Day’s manifest crimes did not come to light until after his death in 1978, due to the interference of a group of senior officers in the Victoria Police Force who, according to one member of this shadowy group, “took their orders from the cathedral.”

Prepare to be shocked and let the light shine in. 

Peter Hoysted

Peter Hoysted is an online columnist with The Australian where he writes under the nom de plume of Jack the Insider and tweets as @JacktheInsider