Father of Girls Raped by Catholic Priest Told to Stop "Dwelling on Old Wounds"

By Roy Eccleston
The Times

July 16, 2008

A father flying from Britain to confront the Pope in Sydney about the rape of his two daughters by a Catholic priest has reacted angrily to claims by a senior Australian bishop that he is "dwelling crankily" on "old wounds".

Anthony Foster is demanding that Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s senior Catholic, "beg for forgiveness" over the repeated rape of his daughters by the priest at a Melbourne primary school between 1988 and 1993.

Anthony Foster is demanding that Cardinal George Pell (pictured), Australia’s most senior Catholic, begs for forgiveness
Photo by Greg Wood

Mr Foster said that his daughters had been severely damaged by the attacks, with the elder, Emma, committing suicide earlier this year aged 26. Her younger sister Katie, who became a heavy drinker, was hit by a car when 15 and now needs 24-hour care.

The Pope, who begins his official duties today at World Youth Day celebrations attended by an estimated 225,000 "pilgrims", has promised to issue an apology this week to young people sexually abused by priests.

But when questioned about an Australian Broadcasting Commission report on the Fosters’ complaints Bishop Anthony Fisher, the Church’s World Youth Day spokesman, sounded dismissive. He said that he’d not seen the report because he had been at the celebrations.

"Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people," he said, "rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds".

In an interview with an Australian website at Tokyo airport, Mr Foster rejected the comments and said that they showed "a complete lack of understanding of the victims, that there are so many people out there that really do have open wounds".

His wife Christine Foster said that she was also deeply hurt: "There are no old wounds for victims. It is always current."

The bishop’s comments forced Cardinal Pell — who was Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the attacks — to try to repair the damage by making a public statement in which he said that he had been "very saddened" by Emma’s story.

She had endured "one of the worst things that can happen to a young woman," he said. Cardinal Pell repeated his earlier apology to the family.

But he did not say that he would meet Mr Foster, who insists he will accept the Pope’s planned apology only "if the Pope will wholeheartedly embrace the notion of begging forgiveness from victims, and supporting them in every way possible and putting the full resources of the Church behind that support so they can have a reasonable life".

Mr Foster said that it had taken eight years to win a substantial financial settlement. He said that Cardinal Pell had introduced a system that imposed a cap on compensation at 50,000 Australian dollars.

"It wasn’t just," he said, adding that he knew of other victims who had been severely affected by abuse who had been offered as little as 2,000 Australian dollars.

Emma and Katie’s attacker, Father Kevin O’Donnell, was convicted in 1996 of the abuse of 11 boys and one girl, aged between 8 and 14, between 1946 and 1977.


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