Religious Life Without Integrity

The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

By Barry M Coldrey

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There is zero tolerance throughout the Western world for child sex offenders. In fact, child molestation has been among the serious crimes for a long time. However, for most of that time, it was occasionally prosecuted. Over the last twenty years, there has been an exponential rise in prosecutions and convictions.

In Sydney, within the last year or two, in the Said Morgan case, a jury acquitted a former policeman who killed a suspected paedophile. There was the following comment in a national weekly: 'If that jury represents public opinion, then the Morgan case suggests we see killing a suspected paedophile as reasonable. Morgan certainly thought so - he says that he would do the same thing again.' In a special MORGAN POLL it was asked inter alia, 'If the victim had molested one of the killer's children, 49% said they would acquit. (Ragg, M. 'They killed and walked', The Bulletin (Sydney), 19 August 1997, p.20.)

In Wollongong, after the murder of former local M.P./Mayor, Frank Arkell, there was little sympathy since Arkell was widely suspected of being a long-standing child molester and was facing abuse-related charges. 'At the crime scene, one neighbour said, unsolicited: 'He got was a sexual predator who deserved what he got...The lives of many of his victims were destroyed when they were too young to defend themselves.' (Martin, B. 'Chasing bloody shadows', The Bulletin, (Sydney) 7 July 1998, p. 20.

'Catholic priests have been bashed, publicly abused and their homes subject to graffiti attacks in unprecedented displays of hostility', Bishop Geoffrey Robinson said. 'The incidents were linked to widespread public anger directed at priests over child abuse allegations.' (Haslem, B. and Hutchings, B. 'Public bash, abuse Catholic priests', Australian, 26 September 1997, p. 5.)

However, it is not only in the Western world that sexual molestation is considered evil. In 1997 the following incident was reported from southern India. 'A Catholic missionary in India has been beaten publicly, stripped and made to walk, naked and bleeding through the streets of a southern town three miles after being accused by a pupil of sexual abuse. The episode was arranged by students of the Santal tribe in the high school in Dumka, Bihar, the homeland of the Santal people, where Jesuits from Sicily and Malta set up a mission in 1930.' 'Police look on as priest is stripped and beaten' The Tablet, 13 September 1997, p. 1167.

Why this extreme hostility - monsterisation - towards paedophiles of recent years, after decades in which child abuse was recognised only rarely, is a subject which social scientists will ponder for some time. However, the hostility is there and it affects the church. Seldom has a respected organisation's reputation been picked so bare.

Two years have passed since the author referred to the community's attitude of 'zero tolerance' to child sex offenders. The evidence accumulates that with the passing of time the community attitudes have continued to harden, not relax on this matter.


(Francis Hogan killed Seamus Tubritt at Ardmore, Waterford, 9 December 1997) 'A Waterford man was yesterday found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of a man stabbed in the heart as he lay on a sofa. A jury of six women and six men accepted the defence case that Francis Hogan lost control after being taunted with reminders of the physical and sexual abuse he endured at a Christian Brothers school...from the age of eight until he left St Joseph's, Fairyhouse, Clonmel, Hogan was physically and sexually abused by a Christian Brother. ('Jury accepts defence of sex abuse memories', The Irish Times, 10 July 1999, p. 5)


'If they prey on children, they can't defend themselves. They give up their right to live in society safely...these people have to understand that their behaviour isn't going to be tolerated. The Rileys, Stephen and Niobi, did something few would defend but perhaps many would privately empathise with...they dropped leaflets into the letterboxes of more than a thousand nearby homes. 'Public warning,' the leaflets read, 'The man with the little dog from (street deleted) has molested a child.' The incident has echoes of another recent episode in NSW in which a convicted child killer, released from prison after 25 years, was hounded from his home by an angry, hysterical mob.' (Gibson, R. 'The price of vigilance', The Age, 9 August 1999, p. T1, T3)


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