Australian Priest Denies Mackillop's Personal Involvement in Abuse Case

By James Martin
America Magazine
October 6, 2010

The priest who was widely quoted here and here and here as stating that part of the reason for the 1870 excommunication of the soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Mary MacKillop was her participation in raising questions about a sexually abusive priest, now says he was misquoted. His quotes were first reported by the Australian media on Sept. 25. Here's the new story, about the former postulator of her cause, just released today from The Australian.

The priest who spent 25 years lobbying for Mary MacKillop's canonisation has angrily dismissed recent media reports. The reports said the soon-to-be saint was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for exposing acts of child sex abuse by a South Australian clergyman. Paul Gardiner, chaplain of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, said the claims, published on ABC Online and in Fairfax newspapers last month, were false, and he feared the misleading coverage was an attempt to take a swipe at the church and distract the public in the lead-up to MacKillop's canonisation on October 17. ABC Online and Fairfax both reported that MacKillop's ousting from the church in 1871 was prompted by her exposure of a Kapunda priest's abuse of local children. The claims were based on remarks made by Father Gardiner in a documentary made for ABC TV's Compass program...."There was a long chain of causation. Somehow or other, somebody typed it up as if to say I said Mary MacKillop was the one to report the sex abuse," Father Gardiner said.

On the other hand, Fr. Gardiner is saying that MacKillop's order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, reported the case of abuse to the co-founder of their order, Fr. Julian Tenison Woods. Later in the new report in The Australian he says: "Early in 1870, the scandal occurred and the Sisters of Saint Joseph reported it to Father Tenison Woods [MacKillop's co-founder], but Mary was in Queensland and no one was worried about her."

This seems to clarify Fr. Gardiner's original statement, in which he said: "Priests being annoyed that somebody had uncovered it — that would probably be the way of describing it—and being so angry that the destruction of the Josephites [MacKillop's order] was decided on." In other words, Father Gardiner asserts that reports of abuse still led to reprisals.

But now we see that the "somebody" who "had uncovered it," according to Fr. Gardiner, was not MacKillop herself but members of the order she founded. (Which begs the question: Is it likely that something so incendiary would be reported to the co-founder of the order without MacKillop, the co-founder and superior general, ever learning about it?) Still, the excommunication of Mother Mary MacKillop says a great deal about what this holy woman had to undergo, whether a result of her own actions regarding the abuse, or her sisters' actions.


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