Excuses about Abuse Just Don't Cut It

By Ian Gillespie
London Free Press [Canada]
February 4, 2004

We know what happened. We know who did it. We even have a price tag -- more than $1.3 million -- for what it cost in terms of suffering. Though I don't think all the money in the world could pay for what happened to John, Ed and Guy Swales.

And though you can dream up all kinds of Freudian foolishness to understand the "why," I don't think it takes a genius to recognize that when a man sexually abuses a boy, he does it for a perverted sense of selfish pleasure.

But I think what most perplexes people about the Swales case is the "how?"

Namely, how in God's name did a priest get away with this -- and for so long -- without somebody finding out?

Peter Jaffe thinks that's a good question.

"Usually when abuse is taking place, people have seen things (and) they've heard things," said Jaffe, a psychologist and special adviser on violence prevention with the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System.

"And usually for an abuser to be successful over time and do the kind of damage that Father Barry Glendinning did," said Jaffe, "it takes a conspiracy of silence of other adults who know and see things that aren't right."

Camping trips. Private visits. Overnight stays.

You'd think somebody would have twigged. You'd think somebody would have put two and two together and come up with foul.

Unless, of course, they looked away. Unless they lacked the courage to face the truth.

According to the church's official press release -- which was released Monday and is drier than a communion wafer -- the lack of awareness was not just the church's fault.

"When the Swales boys were being abused," stated the press release, "our knowledge of child sexual abuse and the knowledge of society generally was limited."

Oh, really?

Still, I put the question to Rev. Tony Daniels, vicar-general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London and the church's local spokesperson on the Swales case.

How did this outrage go unnoticed?

"I've talked to men who were seminary professors at the time," said Daniels. "And it (sexual abuse) just wasn't on anybody's radar screen. I don't know how else to put it.

"The last thing that anybody could ever imagine happening was sexual abuse," he said.

To be fair, Daniels pointed out the diocese of London has a comprehensive policy for dealing with allegations of abuse. He reminded me that last year, Bishop John Michael Sherlock issued a public apology to all who have been abused by priests.

"We don't want to hide this," said Daniels. "We want this exposed.

"If there are accusations from the past, we want them brought forward," he said. "We want to do everything to make sure there are never any more incidents of sexual abuse by any representative of the church."

Daniels also talked of Sherlock's personal apology to the Swales brothers, just months after they issued their lawsuit four years ago.

"I was present when we met with the Swales brothers the very first time," said Daniels. "I was there, and it brought Bishop Sherlock to tears. (The apology) was not hollow."

I think it's fair to suggest, though, that some observers will wonder why the diocese launched a countersuit against John Swales, claiming he was partly responsible for the suffering of his brothers because he sexually abused them.

The countersuit was dismissed.

"I know it's a very difficult thing for people to understand," said Daniels. "And not being a lawyer myself, it's a difficult thing for me. But we needed to listen to our lawyers."

Oh, really?

"I think common sense would say that the church should've known better than to lodge a countersuit," said Jaffe, who testified at the trial. "Because all that happened is they made the lawsuit more complicated, they extended it and it took away from a full and complete apology.

"An apology is more likely to ring hollow if you're involved in other actions which somehow try to reduce your level of responsibility," said Jaffe.

In other words, face the truth. Because saying "I didn't know" or "I didn't understand" just doesn't cut it.

Not then. Not now. Not ever.


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