Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Msgr Dempsey replies to Senator Xenophon....

The latest in the ongoing Adelaide saga is a letter from accused Msgr Dempsey to Senator Xenophon, attacking the Senator's decision to name him in Parliament.

Msgr Dempsey's response

The letter apparently argues that his reputation has been irrevocably smeared and that the accolades he has received over the years are inconsistent with the accusations against him being true. He also argues that he was the one hurt by the naming, yet he has no control over the Archdiocese's action or inaction.

It is an understandable reaction.

Personally I do think Senator Xenophon acted somewhat precipitately.  While it is true that the Archdiocese appears to have pretty much sat on the case and done nothing for four years, the matter had only just been made public, and there was surely some hope that the Weekend Australian's coverage of the case would force some action even without the Senator taking this step. 

And even if it was necessary to set a deadline, a one day deadline was, I think, just a tad short.

All the same, I have to say the appeal to reputation as a reason for rejection of the accusations out of hand just does not hold up; nor does Msgr Dempsey's claim that he has no influence on the handling of the case.

What constitutes a credible accusation?

Msgr Dempsey apparently suggests in his letter that Archbishop Hepworth will be shown to be a less than reliable witness.  He certainly seems to have had a difficult and troubled life.

But these are matters for a formal investigation to look at and arrive at a view on.

The issue at stake here is when should a priest accused of any kind of serious misbehaviour stand aside, voluntarily or otherwise.

In my view, Msgr Dempsey should have offered to stand aside voluntarily (four yesrs ago) and insisted  on the accusations being investigated and resolved one way or another as quickly as possible, just as, for example, Cardinal Pell did when he was faced with an accusation against him.  That course is still open to him.

The real question is, do Archbishop Hepworth's accusations pass the credibility test making them warrant serious investigation, and for the priest concerned to be stood aside?  Given that his accusations against two of the three priests concerned have already been found to be credible, and that those priests concerned seem to have left a long trail of other abuse cases behind them in Adelaide, Melbourne, and elsewhere, it is hard to see how his claims can be rejected out of hand.

Why reputation should not be a factor in decisions on standing aside a priest

The biggest problem in all this, in my view, is that the archdiocese appears to have accepted Msgr Dempsey's argument that his good reputation means he should not be stood aside. 

Once upon a time, I might have agreed.  One would expect priests to conform to a higher standard of behaviour; might assume that accusations against them are just the inevitable attacks of evil on the good.

Unfortunately, there is just too much evidence that just as the Church has been so badly infected by heresy in the last few decades, so also it has been infected by the wholesale collapse of traditional morality in our society.  Too much evidence that many of our current priests should never have been ordained in the first place, while many who were excluded from ordination would in fact have made excellent priests.

I'm not saying that the Church is any worse than other institutions in our society in relation to sexual and other crimes.  It may even be a little better. 

I'm certainly not saying that there isn't a double standard in play - hard to imagine any priest found guilty of sexual abuse getting the sympathetic hearing accorded by the judge to Adelaide author Mem Fox's husband for example.

But it is clear that, as the Pope has acknowledged, there is a legacy of filth in the Church that needs to be dealt with, and it is in the very nature of sexual misconduct cases that the behaviour concerned has been concealed and covered up for many years; that people who appear publicly virtuous turn out not to be.  Consider for example the case of Fr Marciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, friend of a Pope, numerous Cardinals and bishops!

I'm not suggesting that is the situation here.

But we simply can't know one way or the other (particularly given Archbishop Hepworth's claims that he did go to the authorities at the time and their threats were the reason for him leaving the Church), and those in power shouldn't be making decisions based on a presumption that could turn out to be false.

The urge to protect and defend

The instinct of bishops to protect and defend their priests in the face of accusations of misconduct or other criticism against them is perhaps a natural one.  They are, after all, meant to have a fatherly relationship to their priests. 

Moreover, false accusations do get made.

Yet bishops also have a duty to protect their flocks, and it is an unfortunate manifestation of clericalism in my view, to put their relationship to their priests ahead of the protection of the laity.

The precautionary principle, of taking action on the assumption that the consequences of not acting should the accusations subsequently be found to have something to them are high, should be adopted.


Trad Dad said...

The civil authorities are not acting ??? Will the good senator resign from his position if these accusations are found to be false by the competent authority .

Kate said...

'Trad Dad' - the Senator hasn't claimed that the accusations are true, just that they are credible and should be properly investigated and appropriate steps taken in the meantime.

As for the role of the civil authorities, see my previous post! In fact it seems that they are investigating, but that is nether here nor there.

Sharon said...

Was Msgr Dempsy aware of the allegations four years ago?

The accusations which have been found to be credible were against priests who were dead at the time of the investigation. What standard of proof was deemed acceptable?

Fr Ronan Kilgannon said...

Dear Kate, peace. This is my third attempt at communicating. Either what I have written previously has not reached you or you have decided not to print it. Your right on your blog.

What surprises me is your obvious rejection of Archbishop Wilson's explanation of why the inquiry began only in February of this year. It was at Archbishop Hepworth's oft repeated request. Why do you continue to ignore this explanation? Why does Archbishop Hepworth not acknowledge this. And yes, I am one of those who wonder what is gained by going public - in parliament and the press. Is this the sad legacy of the Oprah Winfrey Show?

I have long found the document 'Toward healing' heavily biased against the clergy.
Being stood down and investigated may not in theory mean guilty, but in practice that is what people presume. There have been many false accusations, dismissed by courts. We never hear of this in the media. And yet a priests' life and vocation can be forever ruined.

Finally, why is there such publicity each time an accusation is made against a priest, and no outcry by the Pope, bishops and bloggers like you against
the 7,000 reported cases of child sex abuse in society - and therefore in Catholic homes - last year? I gave the one reference to this in the media in my last communication. I wont be writing again.

Kate said...

Dear Father - None of your previous comments have reached me, I would have published them if they had.

As for the Archdiocese's explanation, it is just that, as I have noted, it is hard to reconcile with both the Melbourne prompt action and the Archbishop's associate's version of what happened with it.

Indeed, even now, six months after even the archdiocese accepts that it was duly authorized what has actually happened?

The apparent lack of an actual papertrail, combined with the Archbishop's counter-explanation of the difficulties in dealing with the archdiocese - to the extent that he went to Cardinal Pell for advice on how to get things moving, hence the Melbourne case - supported by reports of badmouthing of Hepworth in Rome, all seem to give his version of the story a fair amount of plausibility. That may not reflect the reality, but so far no one has made a convincing case to me at least to show that the diocese really is doing everything possible to move this as fast as possible.

On your broader point, I understand the hurt clergy feel at the way they are often treated in these cases, but I'm afraid the hard reality is that clergy are in a positon of a particular power and influence and thus with a particular ability to damage others not just physically or psychologically but more importantly spiritually.

Indeed, AB Hepworth's claims that he was essentially driven out of the Church because of sexual misconduct. He remains excommunicate, albeit due to subsequent bad life choices, but we should surely all emphasize with his agitation and desire to see action.

The bottom line in my view is that the clergy should be held to a higher standard then the rest of society.

That is not to say that the rest of society should be excused, far from it. And I and many other bloggers repeatedly express our horror at the sorry state our civilisation has fallen into.

Still, we want the Church to be a beacon of hope, not just another corner of the malaise.

Tony said...

While it is true that the Archdiocese appears to have pretty much sat on the case and done nothing for four years ...

Appears? The process was confidential, how could it 'appear' otherwise?

It also implies that +Hepworth, with the aid of a competent and experienced counsel (Woodman), took 4 years to come to the conclusion that it was getting nowhere. If that were the case, why would they go ahead with asking for a more formal enquiry, according to the Towards Healing process, in February?

Having done that, how could they expect the process to be quicker than the much easier (given the nature of the cases) Melbourne process?