Abused Girls" Father Seeks Apology

The Age

July 17, 2008

Without a public apology from the Pope, the Catholic church will never give effective help to victims of abuse by clergymen, the father of two girls raped by a Melbourne priest says.

Anthony Foster and his wife Christine have flown into Sydney for World Youth Day (WYD) after cutting short a holiday in London.

The couple said they were worried by a "backpedal" by Pope Benedict XVI on the issue of a public apology for sexual abuse by priests.

Melbourne priest Kevin O'Donnell raped the couple's two daughters when they were in primary school.

O'Donnell died in prison about 10 years ago, and the Fosters have accused the Catholic church of stalling their compensation claim, which was eventually settled out of court after an eight-year legal battle.

Emma Foster committed suicide this year at the age of 26, while her sister Katherine drank heavily and was left disabled when she was hit by a drunk driver in 1999.

A papal spokesman, Reverend Federico Lombardi, said on Wednesday that Australians should "stay tuned" on the issue of a papal apology.

He would not confirm speculation the Pope would refer to Australian sex abuse cases during his visit, although the pontiff strongly suggested during his flight to Australia that he would issue an apology.

Mr Foster said the Pope must publicly apologise and agree to meet with him, his wife and community groups that support sex abuse victims.

"We're not searching for apologies for our family or ourselves," Mr Foster told AAP.

"What we want is action for the victims that remain.

"I would expect that the Pope would understand that we have good knowledge of the effects of sexual abuse and that we would be a very good resource for them to start to understand what they need to do."

But Mr Foster said anything less than a public apology would hinder a way forward.

"I can't really understand why they're backpedalling on that," he said.

"We need an apology and we need action.

"And if he (the Pope) doesn't do that and there isn't some good action, then the situation becomes worse because it further exacerbates the pain and suffering that the victims have to go through."

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said a papal apology to victims of sex abuse was strictly a matter for the church.

"I'm hopeful that the church authorities handle each of these matters individually and sensitively," he told Fairfax Radio Network.

"The church over time has been moving in response to each of these matters as they come into the public domain, and you would say sometimes better than others.

"But it's very important for the church to respond to each individual case."

Mr Foster attacked WYD coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher, who when questioned about his family's case accused people of "dwelling crankily ... on old wounds".

Mr Foster labelled the bishop's comments as "disgusting, given that our daughter only died six months ago".

"It's incredibly insensitive," he told AAP.

"I really wonder about the credibility of the man to hold the position he does both in the church and in World Youth Day."

WYD chief operating officer Danny Casey said Bishop Fisher's comments were directly solely at the media and not at abuse victims or community support groups.

"Bishop Fisher in his commentary on how some in the media seek to portray the church about abuse matters shouldn't in any way suggest he's a man lacking compassion," Mr Casey said.

"I know he's a man who feels deeply, a great degree of compassion, for the victims of abuse and indeed all those who have been hurt."

Meanwhile, a man allegedly subjected to repeated sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest says he is devastated that church leaders have rejected his request to meet with the Pope.

Mackay resident Eric Fleissig, 41, who was allegedly abused for two years while at a Catholic youth refuge at Tweed Heads, in northern NSW, first requested a meeting with the pontiff in March last year.

However, on Wednesday he received an email from the office of Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell advising him his request to meet the Pope, who is in Australia for World Youth Day, had been denied.

"It's just devastating. Absolutely and utterly devastating," he told AAP.

He said he had lost his faith but felt Pope Benedict XVI was the only one who could help heal his wounds.

"I don't want to abuse him because of what happened, I just want him to help me," he said.

"I need closure on this. I've lost a lot, I've lost my faith - I see Youth Week and I feel left out."

Mr Fleissig was just 13 and homeless when he went to live at a youth refuge attached to St Joseph's Parish at Tweed Heads in the early 1980s.

When the priest in charge of the refuge, the late Father Paul Rex Brown, offered to let him live at his house he jumped at the chance.

"I was a kid - it was a home, it was beautiful. I thought 'oh my God I've got someone that wants to look after me like a father' and that's when the sexual abuse started," Mr Fleissig said.

He said he was sexually abused for the next two years, and banned from attending school or leaving the church precinct until a Catholic brother found him lying on a couch with Fr Brown.

He said church officials interrogated him and another boy before asking them to leave the church's care.

He also claimed Fr Brown, who was convicted of child pornography offences in 1996, had been moved to Tweed Heads from Lismore amid allegations of sexual abuse.

His lawyer Rebecca Jancauskas from Shine Lawyers said Fr Brown was believed to be facing further criminal charges when he died in 2005.

Mr Fleissig said he found it difficult to hold down a job or a relationship as a result of the abuse but was currently training as a volunteer with the Queensland Ambulance Service.

He is considering legal action against the church.


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