Catholic Church Defrocks Priest over Inappropriate Sexual Relationship, Apologises to Jennifer Herrick

By eam's Lorna Knowles
Radio Australia
December 7, 2016

The Catholic Church has publicly apologised to Jennifer Herrick. (Credit: ABC)

The Catholic Church defrocks a priest for having a "long-term inappropriate sexual relationship" with a woman, in what is believed to be an Australian first.

The Catholic Church has defrocked a priest for having a "long-term inappropriate sexual relationship" with a woman, in what is believed to be an Australian first.

The church has also publicly apologised to the female parishioner involved, Jennifer Herrick.

The apology is the culmination of a seven-year legal battle Ms Herrick has waged against the church over the "toxic" relationship she had with Father Thomas Knowles.

On Friday, her civil damages claim against the church will be formally settled in the NSW Supreme Court and Ms Herrick hopes her victory will inspire other women who have been exploited by priests to come forward.

Ms Herrick was a shy, 19-year-old with hip dysplasia, which caused her to walk with an abnormal gait, when she first met Father Knowles.

He cultivated a close relationship with her at the church, Our Lady of Dolours, in Chatswood, in what her psychologists would later describe as "grooming".

When she was 22, Father Knowles instigated a sexual relationship with her.

Ms Herrick says Father Knowles repeatedly exploited her vulnerability as a disabled and sexually naive parishioner over a 14-year period.

She says the sex was hurried and humiliating, often in public places or in his car.

"I wouldn't want it to be interpreted in the sense of two people of equal standing in a mature heterosexual relationship, because that's not what it was," Ms Herrick told the ABC.

"I don't believe for a minute that the hierarchy of religious orders or the diocese had any grasp of what abuse of positional power really does to parishioners."

Court case unnecessarily drawn out

Ms Herrick remained silent until 2011, when she complained to the Blessed Sacrament Fathers Order. She was then referred to the Church's internal "Towards Healing" program.

"I'm not sure what it was towards but it wasn't healing and I'm certainly not alone in that experience," Ms Herrick said.

"And it was due to the failure of that process that I ended up going to the civil courts which is not something I wanted to do or did lightly but the Towards Healing process is very much on church terms. It's not an independent process and whilst I was treated with respect, I wasn't treated with empathy or understanding."

Father Knowles was initially stood down, but was then reinstated. Ms Herrick says the court process was unnecessarily drawn out.

"Their conduct has been to delay, procrastinate, make things as difficult as possible. In the end, they asked to mediate but I found the process was an endless round of delays."

On Friday, her case will finally come to an end, with the church agreeing to pay her a confidential settlement. Part of the agreement involved a public apology to Ms Herrick, which was made on Sunday during a church service in Victoria.

"For them to publicly recognise the pain and suffering, which were the words that the provincial used in the apology, it helps me know that they are aware that it can affect someone who's over 18 and it will also hopefully encourage other women who've been similarly affected, who are over 18 to come forward and bring their stories forward and seek similar apologies from their respective diocese or orders in the church," she said.

Ms Herrick hopes her case will raise awareness of what she believes is the widespread exploitation of vulnerable women by priests.

"Hopefully this will be the beginning, just like what happened with child abuse, which has only really come to solid light in the last couple of decades," she said.

"I'm guessing that this will be the same, so when I'm nearing the end of my life, I might be able to look back and see that there's been a momentum of change and I can know that I was part of that instigation. But I think it's going to take a long time, I really do."








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