Newcastle Herald editorial: It's time to challenge the Catholic Church over whether it's really changed

Newcastle Herald
March 16, 2020

Men died too young after they were raped and sexually assaulted by Ryan. He was a protected species who could and should have been stopped from the early 1970s, but wasn't because of the senior clerics above who covered up his crimes.

Hunter Catholics have been warned that the ABC series Revelation, presented by Sarah Ferguson from Tuesday and featuring an interview with Ryan, will be confronting. That's if they watch it, and they should.

This is your church, is the message from Hunter survivor Scott Hallett, who was nine when Ryan gave him alcohol with other young altar boys, committed oral sex against them in a group, and directed them to attempt anal intercourse with each other.

Ryan is still a priest. He has not been defrocked despite spending more than 14 years in jail after his first convictions in 1996 and 1997, and again in 2016, and again in 2019.

In a grotesque scene at the end of Revelation Ryan puts on the priestly garb he keeps in his cupboard, pulls out a chalice, Bible and communal host and says a solitary mass. Because he can. Because the Catholic Church did not act against him until it was forced to. For years it used the excuse that it was better to keep Ryan in the fold than to set him free.

That's an argument that does not wash given that the church could have made its continued financial support conditional on his agreeing to be defrocked.

Scott Hallett is right to describe it as "the devil holding the body of Christ".

He is entitled to ask Catholics to be challenged by that image. The Catholic Church failed him. He would not have been appallingly sexually abused by Ryan if church leaders in the Hunter, including former Bishop Leo Clarke and former Monsignor Patrick Cotter, had been capable of even basic human decency in the 1970s.

While the Australian justice system has largely failed to hold to account the church leaders who protected paedophile priests and other religious offenders, the church has failed the ultimate test for faith groups - to uphold the highest moral standards. And if it fails that test, what is the point of a church's existence, and why should the community have any regard for what it says?

It has been more than two years since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its landmark final report.

It is time to start holding institutions like the Catholic Church to account for what it has done in response, and more importantly, what it has failed to do.

Australians are entitled to ask because it was Australian taxpayers who paid to clean up the mess.


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