Religious Life Without Integrity

The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

By Barry M Coldrey

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The author was an investigator for some years on sexual abuse matters for a section of the Catholic church. The key point which separates an investigator from a whistle-blower is that the investigator is appointed by relevant authority to explore the contentious matters and make an official report.

This may be so obvious that it is superfluous to make the point. However, the role of the whistleblower may be not so clear and needs to be separated from that of the mere busybody.

The whistleblower and the busybody share one feature in common; no one appointed them to reveal wrongdoing by another person or persons; they acted on their own initiative.

However, in my view, the whistle blower is normally an honourable and sensible person, and the busybody is a social pest. What, therefore, is the difference ?

The whistle-blower will often make just one intervention in a life time and the matter on which s/he acts is serious and would be viewed as serious by most people. The whistle blower assembles evidence in an ordered way, assigning weight to different kinds of evidence; thinks over the matter for some time; if a Christian (say) prays about the matter. The whistleblower often advises authority privately of his concerns and gives authority a chance to respond. Only after there is clearly not going to be a response, the whistleblower acts, publicly, decisively and often successfully. The bad conduct is exposed, condemned and dealt with. Father Morrie Crocker, who exposed, priestly paedophile dealings in the Wollongong diocese, 1994, was a whistleblower - and he paid the price whistleblowers commonly face.

A busybody in sterotype female interferes repeatedly and often in matters of which s/he knows little. The issues are often trivial, the evidence is simply gossip, the busybody is often mistaken; the result is often confusion. Little good is achieved; nothing decisive - merely a bad taste all around - except in the mouth of the busybody.


Abuse is a symptom of power, but power is rarely made accountable until it is on the wane. By definition, power is accountable only to itself, and so it is the whistle-blower rather than the abuser who tends to get punished. This is why whistle-blowers who report what happened to them as children can, in the 1980s, be dismissed, and ten years later, when the church is in decline, be met with gasps of horror on relating the same experiences. (Waters, J, 'Past abuse evident to all with eyes to see', The Irish Times, 18 May 1999)


The secret world of sexual activity, including sexual activity with minors, was known by the Catholic hierarchy, and though considered unfortunate and morally wrong, was accepted as an inevitable and easily forgiveable failure of some priests. The atmosphere of crisis did not develop until years later ... victims of abuse were silent and isolated. The primary objective of the Catholic hierarchy was avoiding scandal. Sipe, A W R, Preliminary expert report)


Frang Jagerstatter, Austrian conscientious objector, executed by the Gestapo, 9 August 1943: 'It is best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life.' Franz Jagerstatter was a Catholic farmer and a family man who gave up his life rather than take the military oath and so participate in an unjust war. In spite of pressure place on him by ecclesiastical authorities, he argued that Germany ruled by the National Socialist Party was a criminal state and that to fight for it would have been to collude in its criminality.


Hostility to the Investigator

'At one level, the Roman Catholic church is a multi-national corporation and the level of its self-interest is at times shocking.' (Ledrew, R. 'The Horror of Mount Cashel', Atlantic Provinces Book Review, Vol.18. No.2. June 1991, p. 19)

'Three members of the Australian Bishops Committee for Professional Standards accused church leaders of hiding behind Christian values. Sr Angela Ryan reported efforts in some churches to close ranks to shield and protect perpetrators...Bishop Robinson said the committee had encountered tensions within the church during its work.' Glascott, K. 'Church hid sex abuse: Catholic clergy', The Australian, 15 April 1996, p.5.

'Father Morrie Crocker...blew the whistle on his fellow clergymen who molested children...the church (in Wollongong, NSW) ostracised the priest when he went public...the church treated him like a leper, preferring to sing the praises of the accused, the convicted and the jailed rather than applaud the courage of the priest who cut the paedophile clergy off at the knees.' ('Fighting priest loses the last round', The Missing Link, Vol. 6. No. 3, Summer-Fall, 1998, p. 9)

'Father Mark O'Keefe is in cloud cuckoo land if he believes that Father Crocker was not ostracised. Was there not a certain Christmas get-together which Father Crocker attended ? My information is that he was even cold-shouldered at that event.' (Cullen, P. 'Unanderra priest upset parishioners', Illawarra Mercury, 4 April 1998, p.4)

'A former social worker at Edmund Rice College-managed youth refuge, Eddy's Place, yesterday said he had been pressured to resign after reporting alleged sexual abuse and harassment at the refuge. It became hell after I made the Eddy's Place abuse claims. They made life bloody hard. I was backstabbed; my name was mud with all the people I had to deal with. My pay cheques failed to turn up on time. It got to the point where I resigned.' (Martin, B. 'Social worker forced to quit', Illawarra Mercury, 31 October 1994, p.4)

(Sgt. Denis Ryan) 'I was first contacted about Monsignor Day (Mildura, Victoria) by the vice-principal of St. Joseph's College. Two young girls had gone to the vice-principal where they alleged Mgr. Day had molested them...large numbers of young boys had been sexually assaulted. Sgt. Denis Ryan (now 67) says that:'I was instructed by some of my superiors to cease investigation, later transferred to Melbourne. I was given strict instructions not to make any more enquiries.' Ryan claims that the case cost him his job, his first marriage and tens of thousands of dollars in superannuation payouts.' (Jones, W. 'Church apology on priest probe', Herald Sun, 5 October 1997, p.3)


'A senior probation officer at the time (1960) was still around (1995)...Maurice Egan, now living in semi-retirement in British Columbia..."I had no hard evidence; all I had was the word of the young boys themselves...allegations of fondling and sexual activity...I reported it and there was an investigation." (St. Joseph's Training School, Alfred, Ontario). Egan said he had been ostracised for his actions.' (Henton, D. Boys Don't Cry, Mc Clelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1995, p. 95.)


'Cardinal Bernard Law (Boston, USA) revealed yesterday that he had defrocked John J. Geoghan, 63 for sexually molesting around fifty children over three decades. Richard Sipe commented: "The tradition of the church has been to take care of its own. This is a kind of desperate move that says. We can't move you anyplace. We can't send you anywhere. We can't kick you upstairs. We can't bury you. So we're taking this extreme measure of kicking you out." ('Accused perpetrator defrocked', Missing Link, Summer - Fall 1998, p.3)


Of course, there can be hostility to the whistleblower in secular circles as well, as in the following recent example:

Alison Taylor (Whistleblower) took the fateful step of approaching police fourteen years ago. The social worker with more than ten years experience had run a Children's Home in North Wales for four years and grown increasingly alarmed at the residents stories of sexual abuse, beatings and bullying.

When Alison Taylor met Detective Chief Superintendent Gwyn Owen, the head of the North Wales CID ... it set off a chain of events which cost her her job and career. But it also led to the exposure of Britain's biggest child-abuse scandal, a story of criminality and cruelty aided and abetted by ignorance and complicity stretching back two decades.

After six months, the police investigation ground to a halt and Ms Taylor was sacked. She won her case for unfair dismissal. 'I was on the scrap heap, reputation in shreds, prospects non-existent, my family's future very bleak and all because I refused to turn deaf ears and blind eyes to the abuse of children in care. (Dobson, R and Cherry, N. 'The Abuse', The Independent, (London),16 February 2000, p. 3)


Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our sins against the Law,
and accuses us of sins against our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
We see him as a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
for his kind of life is not like other people's,
and his ways are quite different.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he avoids our ways as he would filth;
he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
and test him to see what end he will have.
For if the upright man is God's son, God will help him,
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture;
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his patience to the test.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since God will rescue him - or so he claims,
- Wisdom, 2, 10-20.


Illegal, Immoral, and Boundary Violations

There are four situations in which priests or Brothers can get themselves involved in breach of their vows:

1. Brother/Father sexually abuses a child, i.e. a legal child, in Australia someone under the age of eighteen, and we bear in mind that most eighteen year olds do not consider themselves as children. Father is acting illegally and immorally and, of course, in breach of his vows.

2. Father/Brother has consensual sex with an adult lady or gentleman with whom he has no professional/pastoral relationship. He breaks his vows of chastity (period).

3. Father/Brother has a consensual sexual experience with an adult with whom he is associated in some sort of pastoral role. This is not illegal, but is a so-called professional 'boundary violation'. While not illegal, similar relationships with other professionals draw sanctions. Over the next few years, it is probable that these relationships will be the subjects of legislation.

The rub for the Catholic priest or Brother with a vow of chastity is that all these relationships are contrary to his vow; only some are illegal, but on the principle that 'Birds of a feather flock together' these relationships together are the foundation of the sexual underworld which can develop in some dioceses and in some religious congregations.


The Suicide of the Confronted Perpetrator

'Father Sean Fortune, who faced 29 charges of sexual abuse against young boys...was found by a friend sitting upright in bed in his home in New Ross, Co. Wexford. Beside him were his rosary beads and a prayer book. He left a suicide note in which he apologised to his family and blamed the media for his misfortune. An envelope contained his will. A bottle of whiskey and pills were in the room.' ('Fortune case may put the church under new sex-abuse scrutiny', The Irish Times, 15 March 1999, p.1)

'A Queensland Marist Brother committed suicide the day before he was to face extradition proceedings for child sex Chanel College, Gladstone (Qld.) in the early 1970s...five charges of indecent assault. Brother Raymond Foster was found hanging from a sheet at a Marist Brothers retirement home in Mittagong about 7 a.m. on Tuesday (24 March 1999) 'Marist Brother found hanged' Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 26 March 1999, p.9.

A former Christian Brother, John Gladwin (65), under police investigation for alleged child-sex offences, is believed to have committed suicide on an isolated bush road on Brisbane's northern outskirts. Ferny Grove police last night said they found a suicide note on Saturday detailing the circumstances of the death of the man, John Gladwin.' (Doneman, P. 'Child-sex suspect found dead', Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 11 November 1998, p,5)

Brother Michael Evans had been abusing boys for years...Evans, who killed himself rather than be charged with indecent assault, was a prominent figure in Wollongong. He was principal of the well-known Edmund Rice College; he was on numerous community bodies, he had a regular spot on the local radio station, and a column in the local paper, the Illawarra Mercury. (McClymont, K. 'The Shame of Church and State', Sydney Morning Herald, 1 May 1997)


On 4 June 1994, the Rev John Hesch of the Diocese of Richmond (Va) put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Several hours earlier, he had been confronted with allegations of child sexual abuse. Next to his body lay written notes claiming his innocence. The previous year, the Rev Thomas Smith of the Archdiocese of Baltimore put a 12-gauge shotgun to his head and ended his life. Allegations that he had sexually abused a young boy were presented to him on 19 August 1993. Two days later, he was dead. One year before Father Smith's suicide, the chancellor of the Diocese of Arlington, Msgr William Reinecke, died at the Trappist Abbey of Berryville, (Va). After his death a young man came forward alleging that he had previously confronted Monsignor Reinecke with charges of sexual molestation. The chancellor ended his life with a shotgun on 11 August 1992. A priest from Alabama shot himself in 1986 after being accused of sexually molesting a 12-year-old boy. The 61-year-old priest left a note saying that he would rather be 'a dead memory than a living disgrace.' These priests are not the only ones who had died at their own hands in the wake of allegations of child sexual abuse. There have been several others and the list is growing. (Rosetti, S J, 'Priest suicides and the crisis of faith', America, 29 October 1994, pp 8-12)


Living and learning is filling me more and more with admiration for the actual wording of the Rule and with a conviction that we must insist, really insist, on a high standard of observance, or see to it that the corruptors are cut off from the body... Briefly, he is guilty of adultery on several occasions with a Catholic woman...We have in the Province (Australia) a few who are not making any serious effort, seemingly, to fulfil the obligations that they freely took upon themselves and they are a source of scandal to others who are fundamentally good. I would like to see these disturbers given canonical warnings and if they set their minds on continuing with their evil ways, we should dismiss them.

- Congregation Leadership Team member to Superior-General, 24 August 1952.


The writer was preparing a Provincial for a television programme some years ago on matters concerned with the sexual abuse crisis. The word 'truth' came into the conversation and the Province Leader remarked that 'Truth was a luxury he could not afford at the moment'. A good strategy for the 'man of God' ?


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