Anger over Bishop's "Insensitive" Remark

The Age

July 16, 2008

A Catholic bishop at World Youth Day (WYD) has angered sex abuse victims by accusing them and their families of "dwelling crankily ... on old wounds".

Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell later intervened in the row fuelled on Wednesday by WYD spokesman Bishop Anthony Fisher, saying the case of one of two sisters raped by a Melbourne priest was "tragic".

But the parents of the two girls, one of whom committed suicide earlier this year, say they were deeply hurt by Bishop Fisher's "very insensitive" comments.

Anthony and Christine Foster are travelling to Australia from Britain to seek an audience with Pope Benedict XVI and Dr Pell over the handling of priest Kevin O'Donnell's rape of their daughters when they were in primary school.

O'Donnell died in prison about 10 years ago.

Emma Foster committed suicide this year at the age of 26, while her sister Katherine drank heavily before being left disabled when hit by a drunk driver in 1999, ABC's Lateline reported on Tuesday night.

Bishop Fisher, who is WYD coordinator, told journalists the latest controversy was detracting from the massive Catholic youth festival underway in Sydney.

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

Speaking to ninemsn from Tokyo's Narita airport, Anthony Foster said the comments showed "a complete lack of understanding of the victims, that there are so many people out there that really do have open wounds".

Christine Foster said she was also deeply hurt.

"There are no old wounds for victims," she said. "It is always current."

Victims' support group, Advocates for Survivors of Child Abuse (ASCA), was also outraged.

"The Catholic Church has a lot to learn about the burden of clergy abuse on the lives of victims, and those who care for them," ASCA director Michael Salter said.

He said sexual abuse by priests would remain an open wound for as long as senior figures in the church continued to minimise its seriousness.

Dr Pell, confronted later by reporters, did not comment directly on the bishop's remarks, but said he was "very saddened" by the story of Emma Foster.

He said she had endured "one of the worst things that can happen to a young woman".

Dr Pell, the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, said he had apologised to Emma Foster and her family in 1998.

"My apology still stands," he said.

"I repeat it. It has never been withdrawn. It has been a tragic case in every sense of the word and I repeat my apologies."

But he refused to say whether he would meet with the Fosters when they arrived in Australia.

Dr Pell said that although the events happened before his time as Archbishop of Melbourne, he was involved in dealing with it.

"I met with her parents. We offered them some financial help. We also offered them counselling," he said.

"Emma availed herself of that counselling for 10 years and we contributed substantially towards those counselling costs."

Dr Pell said he played no part in the civil case then launched by the Fosters.

"I left Melbourne in 2001," he said.

"In 2002, as is their right, (the Fosters) initiated a civil action.

"I was not named as a partner in that civil action; nor named as a defendant. I took no part in that civil case."

The Foster family claims Dr Pell stalled their compensation claim.

In 1998, the family rejected his offer of compensation and they spent eight years in a protracted legal battle before negotiating a settlement.


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