Mackillop Punished by Malicious Priests

9 News
October 11, 2010

The bishop who excommunicated Mary MacKillop was manipulated by malicious priests, a historian says.

The bishop who excommunicated Mary MacKillop from the Catholic Church was a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests determined to destroy her order of nuns, a historian says.

The priests orchestrated her punishment because they were annoyed sexual abuse within their own ranks had been exposed, Father Paul Gardiner also claims.

The historian and Jesuit priest told a new ABC1 documentary on the life of Mary MacKillop that the revelations of child abuse triggered the destruction of MacKillop's Josephite order of nuns.

He also said the bishop of Adelaide, Bishop Shiel, was "gaga" when he excommunicated the woman, soon to become Australia's first saint, in 1871 for going to the authorities.

"Mary was not excommunicated in fact or in law," Father Gardiner said.

"She submitted to a farcical ceremony where the bishop was, I'm not sure you should use this word, gaga, but he had lost it, and he was a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests.

"Were they covering up sexual abuse, well I suppose you could put it that way, or perhaps 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 was decided on."

The documentary reports that MacKillop attracted the ire of a South Australian priest for telling the authorities that a Father Keating, of Kapunda, north of Adelaide, was molesting children at the local church school.

The sisters told the vicar-general and disciplinary action was taken against Keating, humiliating him and angering Father Charles Horan, who was close to Bishop Shiel.

Horan is believed to have harboured a grudge against MacKillop and the whistleblowers in her order, and used his influence over the bishop to manipulate him into throwing the 29-year-old nun out of the church.

"Father Horan was so angry that he swore vengeance ... by getting at the Josephites and destroying them," Father Gardiner said.

Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson, who in 2009 publicly apologised to the Sisters of Saint Joseph for MacKillop's wrongful excommunication, told the documentary makers it was an "absolute disaster" for everyone involved.

"It was just such a bad reflection on the life of the church at the time," he said.

The documentary says Keating was sent back to Ireland where he continued as a priest, while Bishop Shiel revoked MacKillop's excommunication on his death bed about five months later, according to official accounts.

The order of sisters went on to flourish, opening schools across Australia, helping educate poverty-stricken children and those in need, activities they continue today.

The order currently has 850 nuns ministering in seven countries.

This is the first time the link between a paedophilia cover-up and MacKillop's excommunication has been exposed, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph say the ABC's account is entirely accurate.

"There were several factors that led to this painful period for Mary and the sisters," a spokeswoman for the Josephite order told AAP when the contents of the documentary emerged late last month.

"The reasons for Mary's excommunication have been written about and commented on in the public domain since that time. This is consistent with the information contained in the Compass program."

Previous theories surrounding the excommunication have been vague, with the Catholic Church still describing it on its website,, as being for "alleged insubordination".

Others have claimed MacKillop was excommunicated for inciting fellow nuns "to disobedience and defiance" or over her methods and beliefs.

MacKillop is to become Australia's first saint on October 17, following years of lobbying at the Vatican.

The ceremony will broadcast live on television and on the internet.

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