Friday, 31 August 2012

And the scandal continues...

There have been a number of developments on the abuse scandal front this week.

NSW - A Royal Commission?

The case with potentially the most far-reaching consequences is the decision to charge Maitland-Newcastle priest Fr Tom  Brennan for failure to report the case of John Denham to the police, effectively making it a test case for coverups. He has also been charged with physically assaulting two boys who reported being abused, and sexually assaulting one of them.  Fr Brennan was school principal at the time, but was subsequently Vicar-General for the diocese.  You can read Bishop Wright's statement on the case here.

The Newcastle Herald is also running a campaign for a Royal Commission in New South Wales - follow the link above and you can sign the petition if you wish.

Certainly given the unresolved and to date unsatisfactory investigations, particularly when it comes to accusations of failure to act and coverup, that have occurred in too many cases - such as those against Broken Bay Director of Schools Brother Anthony Whelan - the case for a Royal Commission looks stronger every day.


Meanwhile in Victoria, a reader tells me that the Parliamentary Inquiry has extended the date for submissions for another month, to September 21, in order to ensure that everyone gets the chance to have their say.

Meanwhile in the 'they just don't get it' file...

And for further evidence of the nature of the problem, there was a curious interview featured this week on the US National Catholic Register with Fr Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. 

The friars, which he founded, are one of the new conservative orders who have a done a lot of good work. 

But Fr Groeschel, a psychologist by training, made an unfortunate comment about some priests being the victims of teenager seducers, and not necessarily deserving jail for a first offence!

First this seems just naive - as some have pointed out in various places, perpetrators often develop a narrative that they truly believe to justify the unjustifiable. 

More fundamentally, though, even if it were true, who is the adult and who is the child!  That someone makes sexual advances to you can never justify responding to them, particularly where they are minors.

And that a priest who should know better can still come out and say things like this suggests just how far the Church still has to go on the learning curve...

The newspaper, friars and Fr Groeschel have subsequently apologised and pulled the article, but that it could be said and get printed at all is surely telling.

**Update: And now I see assorted blogs providing defences and calling for prayers for Fr Groeschel in his terrible hour of trial!  And being promoted on the very sites that linked to the original interview without comment.

Please, folks, think a little harder about this. He said something at the very least, very silly and hurtful and he said it very publicly; he's rightly being taken to task for it. 

Are some of the comments and speculation unfair?  Perhaps.  Probably.

But in my view, not as unfair as the pain the victims have and continue to experience, particularly when they come across comments of this type. 

Moreover, when comments from a priest appear to reflect a certain mindset, it is only natural to wonder whether this is yet another sad another case where appearances have been deceptive.  Once burnt, twice shy...

Rebuilding trust

On the more positive side, there is a rather more realistic appraisal of the depth of lay anger over this issue and the problems for the bishops of regaining trust in a talk by Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on the subject which should be compulsory reading for all Australian bishops.  It doesn't really offer any solutions, but it does point out that the kind of responses offered to date have not been effective and are not likely to be.

In particular, he reports that in a recent US survey, the bishops basically got a fail mark:

"The bottom line, though: thumbs down for the bishops. For example, 59% of the respondents said that the bishops have done the bare minimum, while only 9% think that the bishops have done a good job of being transparent about past cases of abuse. 55% say the bishops are less likely to cover up abuse cases today than in the past. Remarkably—and this will certainly disappoint you—34%--just over one-third—believe that "parishes and schools are now safer for children thanks to safeguards implemented in the last 10 years."

Would the results be any different here?  I very much doubt it...


Mal said...

Fr. Benedict is in poor health following. After a car accident he was in coma for a month and now is being cared for. Here is his apology which appeared in NCRegister..
"I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone."

Kate Edwards said...


The link I've provided actually does go to Fr Groeschel's apology (and the assorted others).

I'm sorry to hear of his ill-health, but the reality is that he gave an extended interview, the rest of which was perfectly coherent and consistent with what he has said in the past.

Moreover, not only did the NCR originally publish it without comment, but a number of news/blog alert conservative websites linked to the interview to highlight the work of the Friars.

At the time I first saw it I was so furious I decided not to post on it lest publicising it enrage victims further; now that he has apologised that issue is mitigated somewhat.

Nonetheless, I think it really illustrates the problem of too many people in positions of authority either misunderstanding the issues still, or expressing themselves very poorly indeed.

And also the problem of selective blindness on the part of the laity when it comes to people they perceive as doing good things.

Mal said...

Kate, could you explain your last sentence please. If it referred to me I would like you to know that I never condone sexual abuse or abuse of any kind. I just submitted that apology of his as a follow-up to your post.

Robert said...

There are good reasons for supposing that Fr Groeschel has, mentally speaking, lost the plot after a stroke and a very severe car accident. But even with these reasons, the NCR reporter who did not once feel obligated to question Fr Groeschel's wackier theories is almost equally to blame. (Unless, of course, senility is now as contagious as classroom nits ...) Those who allowed Fr Groeschel to shoot his mouth off in full knowledge of his current mental powers should also be astringently reprehended.

Perhaps it would be as well if all Catholic readers of this website offered a heartfelt prayer this evening before they go to bed:

"Dear Lord, if it be Your inscrutable Will that I should suffer one day from dementia - or from the sort of non-dementia brain damage which leaves me assuming that sins which cry to heaven for vengeance are in fact Sins Holy Mother Church Can Do Business With - then purge from my soul, oh Lord, all desire for renewed mass-media harlotry, and give me the sanctifying grace to SHUT UP."

Kate Edwards said...

Mal - My comment was aimed at the 'but he's a good and holy priest' reaction that we all tend automatically to default to when its someone we know or like.

It is the disbelief/must rationalize it away reaction that victims got when they complained, rather than an even handed assessment of what was actually said and done without prejudgment.

To be honest, if someone is too sick to speak clearly and coherently, he shouldn't be giving media interviews.

It is certainly to Fr Groeschel's credit that he has apologised and the article has been pulled.

But the reality is he did say what he said, so I'm pretty bemused to see people like Mark Shea painting him as the vicitm here!

There is a good post I've come across here that explains what I'm getting at:

I imagine a lot of abuse victims too, want to 'reach for the gun' when they hear someone defended as a good and holy priest...

Mal said...

Well, I do not intend to judge the priest. If those near him have known him to be good and holy over the years how can I assume otherwise - even considering the statement he made and for which he apologised.

A Canberra Observer said...

I don't know enough to even have a prejudice about Fr Groeschel's comments.

But I do wonder if statements like these derive from a long period of exclusion from the experience of the victims. Though given the work of the Friars of the Renewal that is hard to believe.

Kate Edwards said...

Robert - It is, I suppose, possible that this is a case of dementia/after effects of a stroke and if so we should indeed hope that our carers would do a better job and ensure we didn'e end up bringing the church into further disrepute as a result.

The problem with this theory though is that the interview as a whole was perfectly coherent, and the comments in question quite extended and internally consistent (you can read the whole thing via google if you haven't already).

Personally it seems to me that the reason why the reporter didn't question them, and why sites like pewsitter (and I think the big pulpit) actively promoted the interview is that their editors actually thought this was a valid point to make in the debate.

Exactly the same groups gave a lot of publicity to earlier comments by others about the number of false claims, and regularly highlight other defences.

The reality is that many conservatives still think the church is being framed/hard done by on this issue and are happy to highlight any counter-arguments.

For some reason on this issue all too many people seem to empathy-challenged, unable or unwilling to to put themselves in the shoes of the victim.

Yet in the Gospel Our Lord modelled for us over and over again a great sense of pity for those in distress, a a pity that resulted in action.

Stephen K said...

I am heartened by your whole approach to this issue. There should never have been any question that amidst all the bad that happens, much good also happens. But that is not the point. The abuse of people is one level and species of evil; the attempts to hide it or the failure to acknowledge it is quite another and it is the latter that has exacerbated the harm and injury to the abused and caused havoc with the reputation of the Church. The day some genuine empathy is felt and expressed by leaders and those in official positions and all defensiveness is unconditionally dropped will be the day some people's hope and trust might just begin to repair.