Unsubstantiated Sex Claims Ruin the Life’s Work of Good Men
By Gerard Henderson
April 9, 2016
I write in defence of the memory of the Australian Jesuit priest Patrick Stephenson and in support of my friend Charles Moore’s campaign to honour the life of the British Anglican bishop George Bell. Both men have been accused, decades after their deaths, of sexual impropriety with unnamed minors.
I knew, but did not like, Father Stephenson (1896-1990) when I was a student at Xavier College, Melbourne, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I always regarded the Irish-born “Stevo”, as we all called him, as a bit of a snob with undue admiration for judges, surgeons, lawyers, doctors and the like. Moreover, he was a truly dreadful teacher. Stevo’s geography classes, which we termed “townography”, consisted of teaching and learning the names of countries, states, cities, rivers and so on throughout the known world. They are accurately, and wittingly, described in Paul Henderson’s 2005 book Xavier Behaviour.
Yet, unlike some of his Jesuit colleagues, Stephenson was a gentle man. He was committed to good works focusing on the less successful Xavier students as well as the poor and the oppressed outside the college’s gates. Perhaps because he was neither a scholar nor a sportsman, Stephenson devoted his life on the Xavier campus to counselling students. He invited students to his room for discussions about how they were faring and showed genuine interest in them and their families.
I have never been into “deep and meaningfuls” with priests or psychologists and soon ignored Stephenson’s invitations “to come up and see me sometime, boy”. What’s more, I did not much like the fact that he sat on a chair and grabbed the top of my knee during the discussions.