Adult Conspiracy to Silence Abused Children a Perversion of Justice

By Chris Goddard
The Australian
September 4, 2010

THE truth about child abuse has long been obscured. Many adults and institutions have used a range of weapons to silence children. The full extent of the lying and deception is still being uncovered.

Sadly, children make perfect victims. They are smaller and weaker than their abusers. They are easily intimidated by rapists and others who assault them.

Abusers have many allies, some unwitting, some very willing. Those prepared to defend children have often been hard to find. Medical interest in child abuse started fewer than 50 years ago even though, a century earlier, murder and abuse of children was regularly reported in newspapers. Even then, in mid-19th century Australia, there was a reluctance to use the full force of the law.

The sexual assault and rape of children took even longer to come to public attention. When the problem had to be confronted, psychiatrists and others created myths to protect the perpetrators. The most powerful, the most regularly used, was that children lie. Adults, it was presumed, always told the truth.

The presence of physical proof of sexual assault and rape required other lies from adults. Children were blamed for being seductive and provocative. Mothers were presumed to be collusive. Perpetrators were met with the full force of family therapy.

Even our language is used against children. I discovered this at the inquest into the death of Daniel Valerio nearly 20 years ago. The precise language of doctors and lawyers changed in the confronting evidence of this two-year-old's torture and death. Daniel's injuries became "its injuries", his family "its family".

Since then, in our research at Monash University, we have found many other examples of this emotional distancing and minimisation. We continue to use the word pedophile, a word of Greek origin, meaning "lover of children" rather than child rapist.

Some organisations have done more than others to aid and abet the rapists, to provide victims and silence the complaints. The scale of the complicity of the Catholic Church can be judged by visiting the website of Broken Rites (

In less than 20 years, they have been involved in the court cases of 117 priests and brothers.

One of the perpetrators identified on the website is priest Kevin O'Donnell, who died in 1997. The list of his Melbourne parishes is extensive: South Melbourne, Chelsea, Balaclava, Seymour, East Melbourne, Dandenong, Hastings and, finally, Oakleigh. According to Broken Rites, the Catholic Church admits that O'Donnell was a child abuser "from the time he was ordained". So much damage done by one perverted priest and his allies in 50 years.

It was in Oakleigh that two of Chrissie Foster's daughters became the victims of O'Donnell. The story of the cruelty of the priest and the threats and denials of a corrupt church is told in Foster's new book Hell on the Way to Heaven (with Paul Kennedy, published by Random House). It is a devastating, terrible story. She describes what O'Donnell did to children: "The priest raped children, orally and anally. He put his hand inside their underpants and touched their genitals while he masturbated. He lay on top of them. He pressed his erection against their little bodies . . . he left them emotionally tortured and spiritually ruined . . . O'Donnell and the church stole part of their souls."

In response, according to Foster, the abuse of the children was treated by the church hierarchy as gossip, and they were repeatedly told to "take your evidence to court".

Over and over, children say that when they attempt to report abuse they are met with reactions that further abuse them. These children were no different.

No wonder those victims were cutting themselves, taking drugs, getting drunk, suffering depression and even attempting to kill themselves, some with success. If the sexual assaults didn't destroy them, then the reception they received from the hierarchy might.

Foster and Kennedy discovered another part of the truth about child abuse, not in Oakleigh but in Ireland. The release of the Irish Commission of Investigation report into child sexual abuse exposed again the Catholic Church's practice of hiding the rape of children.

Catholic priests, it was reported in Ireland, were taught to "lie without lying" by using "mental reservation". This is a tactic "discussed over the centuries" that allows a priest "knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without lying".

So many weapons have been used against children. Now it appears that the truth can be hidden and lies told in a language created specifically to deceive.

Chris Goddard is director of Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia, Monash University.


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