Saturday, 25 September 2010

Blessed Mary McKillop excommunicated for exposing child abuse?

There are stories on the ABC and Fairfax websites today claiming that Blessed Mary McKillop's excommunication in 1871 was an act of revenge for exposure of a paedophile priest.  The priest concerned was sent back to Ireland (without canonical action being taken against him), triggering a desire for revenge from one of his fellow Adelaidian priests. 

The full story will run on ABC's Compass Program a week before the canonisation ceremony in October.

Not completely implausible I suppose (though the more accepted explanation of power issues and the other serious issues around the bishop who excommunicated her were equally so).  But if it is true, why has it only come out now?

All very strange.


Anonymous said...

Hello Terra,

I have followed your blog for some time now, though I haven't commented.

As a history honours student focusing on Australian Catholic history, this story interests me.

One of my favourite places for primary documents is Brian Condon's Letters and Documents in 19th Century Australian Catholic History. All the documents relating to the 'excommunication' of Bl. Mary MacKillop are available there.

From the letters and documents, it is clear that Fr. Charles Horan was the troublemaker who fed Bishop Sheil a lot of false information. He certainly had an axe to grind when it came to the Sisters of St. Joseph, although it seems that he was angrier with Fr. Tenison Woods. If the various letters are to be believed, Fr. Horan was a rather lecherous fellow, he made sexual advances towards the Sisters, 'he washed himself naked in the public baths with laymen; there with other priests he vomited.' Interestingly, in December 1872 he was ordered by Franciscan Father-General Wenceslas to leave the Diocese of Adelaide and return to his Convent in Dublin. However, believing himself to be secularised, he refused to obey.

In regards to the paedophilia, Fr. Joseph Tappeiner S.J. told Propaganda Fide that the expulsion of Fr. Keating OSF was 'the beginning of the hatred of Fr. Horan for Fr. Woods and the Sisters.'

If you're interested in the details, I'd suggest you read this:

The letter never states that children were the victims of Fr. Keating's sexual deviancy though it is clear that it occurred 'many times' and in the confessional. Nor does it say, as the ABC headline suggests, that Bl. Mary herself uncovered the abuse and threatened to go public. Indeed, they simply passed the information on to Fr. Woods who, in turn, passed it on to the Vicar General. Whatever the case, Fr. Horan is thought to have 'turned a blind eye' to Fr Keating's indiscretion.

The evidence of Fr. Woods makes no specific mention of this incident, however, he does say: 'I was the instrument in dismissing from the Diocese certain priests of the same [Franciscan] Order who were known to be addicted to drunkenness and immorality.'

It will be interesting to see how Compass presents all of this. Suffice to say, given the sorts of Catholics involved in that programme, I'm not optimistic.


Terra said...

Thank you for that information Thomas, intriguing context.