Mark Owen writes

The scandal of child abuse in the Church


The last few years have seen a new willingness on the part of the public at large to admit the unpleasant fact that the sexual abuse of children is widespread throughout the Western world.  In times past such abuse tended to be swept under the carpet; it was something nobody spoke about, except in private and in hushed tones.  I well remember my own mother many years ago telling some of her friends - not realizing I could overhear what was being said - about an incident involving a young boy in the Scouts.  Few such incidents were ever reported in the press.  Yet we now realize that such abuse has undoubtedly occurred far more often than any decent person could contemplate.
The penalty we have paid for the refusal of politicians, press and public alike to face up to the realities of the situation is the continuance and even extension of such abuse.  It has always been thus.  Public scrutiny is a vital factor in restraining the passions of the abusers.   In this connection I deplore the secrecy surrounding many abuse cases that have passed through the courts in recent times.  In the name of protecting the young victims the perpetrators have their names and details of the case suppressed.  This is a travesty of justice.
Thus we find - and I admit to a certain naïveté on my part over the years in this regard - to our amazement that abusers come in all shapes and sizes.  They wear the white coat of the doctor and the suit of the psychiatrist, the mortarboard of the teacher, the uniform of the Scout leader - and, yes, the garb of the clergyman.  Sometimes even women are among their number, another cause for some surprise (at least to some of us), and very recently in Australia at least we have discovered that some police may be child abusers.

At first sight it might seem from what follows that I am directing my attention largely, and unfairly, to the priests of the Catholic Church and overlooking abuse in other Christian denominations.  However, the simple fact is that perhaps 80 to 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases in the educational context involve Catholic priests.  The reason is obvious - the Catholic Church has always maintained an extensive school system, embracing all age groups, coupled with the use of young boys (and in recent times) young girls in the services of the Church. Mention of altarboy sometimes suggest to our minds, if unfairly, something other than a participant in religious ceremonies.
Even the Anglican Church, which still has a stake in education, only represents a very small segment of the educational system.  In Britain and Australia, for example, when a hundred or so years back education became a universal right of children, provided for by governments, the Anglican, Presbyterian and the other churches opted out of the primary school system and so far as high-school education was concerned retained only the major institutions.
But the Church of Rome retained its grip on the education of the young, believing firmly in the principle of inculcating Christian values into children from an early age and in all ways possible.   In very recent times the fundamentalist Christians have joined them in setting up a network of schools but, although expanding rapidly, these represent but a small proportion of the whole and do not challenge the predominance of the Catholic system.


And that all religions have their mavericks, their abusers, is obvious.  The high-profile Queensland (Australia) politician, Keith Wright, jailed in 1993 for the sexual abuse of a young girl, was an active fundamentalist Christian who crusaded against 'porn', one who had preached to the Southern Baptists in the USA.  A young Greek Orthodox housewife - an attractive young woman, I might add - told me that her parish priest had often tried to seduce her in her teen years!  In 1985 a case reached an Australian court involving the alleged sexual abuse of a 16-year-old youth by a Serbian Orthodox priest.
And even the Buddhists have their problems.  In September 1995, for example, a Buddhist monk was charged with eleven 'serious sex offenses' involving two women.  If we had more information available we might well find Buddhist priests have abused children!  The Jews, too, with a rabbi in trouble for molesting a teenage girl on an air flight.

An Australian ABC-TV program quoted an estimate that as many as 20 percent of church members of all denominations had experienced varying degrees of sexual abuse.  The history of English boarding schools, cathedrals and suchlike places has evidence aplenty of nefarious activities involving choirboys. It certainly happens among the Pentecostalists; it happens among the sects - Pastor Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, played around with female members of his flock.  The goings-on among the early Mormons, especially involving their founder, Joseph Smith, are well documented.  It happens everywhere.  And still happens today.
There were hints of possible abuse occurring in Sydney's Anglican community when in October 1995 the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Harry Goodhew, apologized for the delay in introducing guidelines to deal with allegations of abuse.  One social worker said she had dealt with at least five allegations by parishioners against church workers in a two-year period.  The Sydney Morning Herald  said that a draft copy of a 1993 report referred to several instances of sexual abuse, presumably involving adults.  These included unwanted touching, verbal harassment, fondling, kissing, voyeurism, oral sex and vaginal or anal penetration.

But the simple fact is that, although child sexual abuse has occurred elsewhere, the huge size and worldwide reach of the Catholic educational system virtually ensured that if abuse occurred at all, it would produce, a large number of child abusers, especially in the unnatural - one might say, inhuman - atmosphere produced by the institution of clerical celibacy.  The Catholic Church began playing with dangerous fire when it imposed the rule of celibacy on its clergy, both male and female.
The rule of celibacy gradually crept into the Church, at times enforced, at other times allowed to lapse.  Indeed, even when it was imposed with some degree of discipline, many of the clergy lived with concubines and thus satisfied the natural human sexual drive.  Its imposition reflects the completely distorted view of human sexuality fostered by Christianity, which has been such a disastrous influence in the world and still plays a part today in perpetuating human misery.  H.C. Lea in his monumental and well-documented study, A History of Clerical Celibacy,  makes it abundantly clear than celibacy was not the rule from the beginning.  It was yet one more aberration that found lodging in the darkness that was Rome. 


It may seem to some that the sexual abuse of children by the clergy is a recent, modern problem.  Not so!  In the Middle Ages the rules of some religious orders actually made provision for punishing monks who played around with little boys, which implies that this was a common activity!  Among other offences - punishable by flagellation -  was that of 'indecencies of any kind with boys' (and with other monks), and in this case the whipping was inflicted in public.  That such a provision was deemed necessary certainly admits that abuses took place, at least on some occasions.

Indeed, the matter was by no means settled for hundreds of years and even when celibacy became the norm the resultant outbreaks of sexual misdemeanor made a mockery of the rule anyway!  This is not the place to go into the illicit sexual activities of popes (yes, popes), cardinals (yes, cardinals), bishops (yes, bishops), priests, monks and nuns, altogether too large a story to be told here.  Suffice it to point out that in some of the blame for the fall from grace of certain Catholic priests in the 20th century can be laid directly at the feet of those who imposed this cruel requirement upon mortal flesh.  Just one counsellor alone, Jay Feierman, a psychiatry professor at the University of New Mexico, has reportedly treated 500 abusive priests over a 15-year period. This says it all, doesn't it?
There have been other factors at work, too, in the situation, that opened the door to abuse.  These include the basic fear engendered by the priests and nuns, who - at least until very recent times - wielded authority over the people.   We live in a different world today but it is not so long ago when the good Catholic would not dare question anything the parish priest said or did, or the religious nun or brother in the school.  

Thus if little Johnny came home from school and reported he had been severely beaten nothing would be said.  Even if he bore weals in his body.  For not only was sexual abuse occurring but long before this physical abuse, too.  I am not writing about ordinary discipline, but real cruelty experienced in schools and especially behind the high walls of religious institutions.  Some of these instances saw the light of day in their time and were even aired in the public press, but all too few.  The atmosphere of fear and respect for authority ensured that little of the truth emerged.

Many teaching nuns and brothers had reputations for cruelty towards their small pupils.   The strap and the stick were in heavy use in Church schools and residential institutions in times past and doubtless sadism, a distortion of the sexual impulse, was manifest in many of those celibate teachers.  A notorious case hit the Parisian headlines in 1902, when nuns at Nôtre Dame de Charité were accused of employing outrageous disciplinary methods in the school.  Girls were kept in straitjackets, sometimes for days on end, and forced to eat thus restrained by having their heads pushed down into bowls.  One nun often smeared the faces of the restrained girls with mud and even her own excreta.  And restrained girls were likely to have their heads held under water.  Altogether the nuns' activities reflected nothing less than outright sadism.


Another important factor was the opportunity for abuse posed by the many situations, especially in boarding schools and children's homes, where children were left completely in the control of nuns and brothers for lengthy periods, having limited contact with parents or relatives and in some cases, e.g. orphans, having no contact at all.  This sort of thing happened in the many small private schools in England, many of them run by Anglican clergymen.  It was almost proverbial that the ordained Anglican headmaster was generally a martinet with rod in hand.
How much sexual, as against physical, abuse was occurring and how far back, is hard to tell.  It was even less likely that sexual malfeasance would come into the public arena than physical abuse, for such matters were not discussed in public.  Doubtless many people knew bad things were happening to children but in the context of the times chose to pretend they did not.  Or did not believe what the child told them!  Or if they did believe the child were too over-awed by the Church's apparatus to know what to do about it.

Whether newspaper editors have been too squeamish or unwilling to upset Catholic opinion, whatever the reason, the revelations have been coming thick and fast now for many years yet it is only in very recent times that we have seen more detailed reports of the various court cases.  There was, for example, a massive payout of many millions of dollars in a major case in the Boston Archdiocese in the 1990s.  It rated no more than a brief mention in key Australian newspapers at the time.  Similarly, only a few lines were devoted here and there to local cases involving individual priests.
But times have changed and by the 1980s the Church could no longer brush aside the ever-mounting flood of reports implicating the clergy, especially the male clergy, in the physical and sexual abuse of children.  Not for want of trying on the part of the Church hierarchy.  There have been some appalling instances of the Church attempting, by fair means or foul, to wriggle out of nasty situations.  I shall detail some of these in due course.


It is hard to put one's finger on the first revelations in our own time.  An early - and typical - case involved an American child, Sharon Smisek, who in the mid-1950s, then aged about 9 or 10, was sent on instructions by a religious sister to the local rectory each week.  She would plead not to be sent but the sister insisted, describing her reaction as being 'wilful and disobedient'.  She had good reason not to wish to go there, for all the while she was being raped at the rectory by the parish priest.  One day another priest happened to arrive on the scene while the priest was attacking her.  He sent the girl to the church, saying he would follow.  When he arrived he made the girl confess her sin, for 'this terrible thing', placing all the blame on her!  She was then warned never to tell anyone else about what had happened.  No further action was taken.  This is so typical of the endless cover-ups that occurred.

In 1967 an American priest, Father James R. Porter, of Boston, (Massachusetts) quietly dropped out of parochial duties and underwent therapy in a Church treatment centre [sic]  in New Mexico for what were described as 'sexual hangups'.  This was not widely known at the time but many years later it would be revealed that Porter had been in fact allegedly involved in sexually abusing large numbers of children in Catholic schools and parish churches over a period of eight years - between 1961 and 1967.  The immediate cause of his stand-down was an accusation that he had molested some 7- and 8-year-old boys while in a boat with them. 

In 1970 Church authorities pronounced the priest cured and he returned to parochial duties - in contact with children again.   The Saint Luke Institute in Maryland is one such centre that treats priest sex-offenders.  Many priests have been sent there.  But critics charge that priests go to such centres, receive treatment, then go back to parishes, where they again abuse children.  Sending a priest off for treatment is a good cop-out, rather than reporting his criminal activities to the police. As we shall see throughout this report cover-up is the order of the day in the matter of child abuse within the Church with one case after another being quietly dealt with behind the scenes.

However, one figure quoted claims that 75 percent of priests diagnosed as pedophiles are not reassigned to parochial duties.  Such men are warned never to be in the presence of children or teenagers alone again, even family members.  Some are given Depo-Provera to lower the sex drive and the occurrence of sexual fantasies.  But as a footnote it should be recorded that Joe McDonald, an abused Catholic (see further) discovered that the priest put in charge of one such rehabilitation program was the very man who had abused him!

In any event in 1974 Porter left the priesthood and married, subsequently fathering four children.  In September 1992 Porter, aged 58 at the time, was brought to trial in Boston on molestation charges.  At his court appearance there were many people present who asserted they had been abused by Porter as children.  Indeed, one estimate put the figure at about 100 such victims.   Security was tight as police feared some of the victims might attack the former priest.

A typical victim is Denis Gaboury.  While serving as an altarboy at the age of 10, Denis was one day invited to the rectory.  He thought this was a great honour and gladly went.  Soon after he arrived the priest took his hand and placed it on his trousers and, without wasting much time, soon had the boy face down on the carpet, with his pants down at his ankles.  Denis remembers years later how he felt the weight of the priest and 'something' between his legs.  As we shall see, many such offences take place in parish rectories or presbyteries, even within church buildings and in at least one case in the confessional! 


The Catholic Church was at this time widely criticized for refusing to 'come clean' on the Porter case and other sexual abuse cases involving priests.  The Church later made financial settlements out of court with a large number of Porter's victims.  Since around 1980 many cases have been revealed but it was not until some years later that these received wider publicity.  The Porter case was only one, a high-profile one, among many hundreds around the world.  Between 1982 and 1992 an estimated 400 Catholic priests in the USA alone were reported to Church and civil authorities for the sexual violation of children.  There have been many more since then.  In the same period the Catholic Church paid out an estimated $US400 million in legal fees, medical expenses and settlements to victims.  Nearly every American diocese has been involved in the charges.  Yet I doubt if we saw anything like one-tenth of 400 reports in our  newspapers in that period!

In the end Porter was found guilty, in 1993, on one charge of sexually molesting a 15-year-old girl.  This was the result of a plea bargain and he was sentenced to just six months' jail.  Later, however, he appeared in court again to face further charges - relating to boys - and in December 1993 he admitted 41 counts of sexual assault and sodomy.  Porter was sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison on these charges.

The stories that emerged in these trials were horrifying but typical of many other cases.  According to his accusers, numbering 22, the priest begun abusing children after he left the treatment program.  Children were molested at camps and altarboys were molested in a locked room after church services.  One boy was reportedly even sodomized as he lay in bed recovering from surgery!  At North Addleborough, Massachusetts, a former student, Frank Fitzpatrick, claimed that as a boy he had been awakened to find Father Parker on top of him, engaged in anal intercourse.  Later the boy was raped in the church sacristy.
Porter eventually returned to the same treatment centre for further help.  The ex-priest later claimed he had not had sexual contact with a child since 1974.  But other reports indicate that this might not be true.  Included in later cases were a 13-year-old boy and a girl who had been baby-sitting, the latter claiming that in 1987 Parker had exposed himself and had an erection in front of her.  The girl, known as 'Ann', ran off in fright but told nobody of her experience at the time.


In 1983 Father Robert E. Kelly was a new priest assigned to the Sacred Heart Church, in a Massachusetts parish.  Kelly became friendly with a dedicated Catholic family named Kraskouskas, whose small daughter Jennifer, aged just 8 at the time, was especially attractive to the priest.  Kelly visited the family home often and got into the habit of going up to Jennifer's bedroom at bedtime, where he 'talked' to her.  Jennifer later recalled that Kelly often had his arms about children and flocks of children were usually around him. Eventually he began touching her chest and then her genitals.  Then he had her touch him and eventually became involved in oral sex with the child.  Her parents suspected nothing while over a period of two years and on at least 100 occasions he molested the girl.  He had warned her that nobody would believe her if she said anything and she was scared into silence. 

Eventually Father Kelly mysteriously disappeared without explanation.  Later it became known that the reason he had been moved was a complaint laid over molestation of another child.  It was eventually learnt that he had been in therapy for a year, after which he took up work as a photographer.  In 1989 Jennifer reported what had happened to a school counsellor, who in turn informed police.  In March 1990 Kelly pleaded guilty to a charge of child sexual assault.  He was given a jail sentence of 5-to-7 years.  Kelly later told investigators that he had confided his attraction to children to another priest and to Cardinal Maderos.  The Cardinal, he said, told him not to go near little girls but nobody in the Church reported him to police.

Jason Berry produced a book, Lead Us Not Into Temptation, after he began exploring the whole subject in 1984 when the case of Father Gilbert Goffeck, in Lafayette, Louisiana, hit the headlines.   Goffeck had allegedly violated over 100 children.  When he investigated further Berry discovered that in all seven priests in one diocese had abused children in a similar manner.  But rather than dealing properly with the situation Church authorities had 'recycled' the priests, moving them around to different parishes.  Goffeck was moved at least three times after accusations of abuse were made by parents.  In 1985 Goffeck pleaded guilty to 33 offences of child sexual abuse and was sentenced to a jail term of 20 years without parole.
A former priest, Father Thomas Slobovsky, was a teacher at Our Lady of Victory School in Virginia.  A 13-year-old boy without a father was befriended by the priest, who told him to call him 'Dad' (to which the boy's mother objected).  The teacher gave the boy 'private biology lessons' and sex instruction.  During these lessons he was told to take off his clothes and touch himself and oral sodomy was engaged in. The priest suggested anal intercourse but the boy refused.  The abuse continued for 13 months.  One night the mother heard her son being sent a 'goodnight kiss' over the phone by the priest and was alarmed.  She went to Church authorities but they did not advise civil officials.
Eventually the Virginia police became involved but a detective assigned to the case described how he had been given an extensive run-around by the Church and its lawyers whenever he tried to interview the priest.  The priest had in fact been moved from the area by the Church the day after the mother laid her complaint!  Surely this was an obvious attempt by the Church to avoid the issue.  But Slobovsky was finally indicted when a second young man came forward and testified he had been abused over a period of three years.
It has been the experience of many families of abused children that the Church has dodged facing up to the issue.  Christine Clark alleged she was molested by a former priest, in Illinois.  In 1987 her parents complained to Church authorities but they took no action.  Jeanne Miller is a Catholic lay activist who sought action from the Church.  She organized a gathering of Victims of Sex Abuse by Priests in Chicago.  In 1982 Miller accused a Catholic priest of assaulting her own 14-year-old son.  She claimed he made advances to the youth while on an overnight trip to a holiday cottage.  The Church was slow to act on her complaint.  She was informed eventually by Chicago's Bishop Joseph Bernardin that she should not worry.  The priest would not be allowed to work with children again.  She was given a $15,000 settlement.
Within three months she discovered the priest had been assigned to another parish.  Thereafter he was transferred two more times.  One day she received a phone call from police telling her that the priest had been caught naked on the roof of the rectory garage with two young boys.  The priest quietly slipped from view, parishioners being given no explanation, merely being informed that he had 'resigned'.  Then a 14-year-old girl accused him of molesting her in a new parish and he was finally brought to trial.  He was found guilty in 1993.


In the midst of the uproar Cardinal Bernardin made an appearance on television commenting on the Church's action in setting up at that time a review board, with a majority of lay members, to examine all cases brought to its attention.  However, some time after his TV appearance the Cardinal himself was accused of child sexual abuse.  Steven Cook, 34, who accused him, later admitted he had recalled the incident, which had allegedly occurred 15 years previously, while under hypnosis and said that his memory was unreliable.  He withdrew his action against the Bishop.

Joseph Johnson, now 36, for 25 years kept silent over an episode of abuse he suffered as a 9-year-old altarboy.  The abuse began when the parish priest pressed his penis against the child.  He was, he said, 'totally numb' when this happened and built a strong wall of guilt and shame about his life, so much so that he was unable to have sexual relations with his wife.  On Valentine's Day, 1989, he finally told his wife, using a taped message to distance himself somewhat from her.  Since then he has received treatment and the couple have finally been able to experience a happy married relationship.  Mr Johnson gained an out-of-court financial settlement.
Homosexuality is common among Catholic priests in the USA and for that matter in other countries.  The lowest estimate, coming from a sympathetic source, is that 25 percent of priests engage in homosexual activities of one kind or another.  However, Jason Berry, himself an abused Catholic, says that probably at least 40 percent and even possibly up to 50 percent may have homosexual inclinations, although not necessarily engaging in homosexual activities.   Berry bases his estimates on personal interviews he has conducted with priests.  (There are an estimated 43,000 active Catholic priests in the USA at present and possibly another 10,000 retired.  Nominal Catholics make up about 25 percent of the US population.)

A survey conducted by a Catholic researcher in Ireland in 1995 reported that as many as 48 percent of clergy had experienced some form of sexual contact with younger males.  Proof of this situation comes from the fact that most Catholic seminaries require the young men applying to undergo an HIV-AIDS test before being accepted!  Coincidentally there has been a 50 percent drop in the number of young men applying to enter Catholic seminaries since the mid-1960s.

Malachi Martin, a noted Catholic writer, says there is a self-protecting network of gay priests working together and hindering action against child molesters in the priesthood.  This is, of course, not to imply that all homosexual priests are attracted towards children as sexual partners, any more than other homosexuals.  Young boys, however, are far more often the objects of the priestly attacks than are girls.  It should also be added that statistics show that by far the greater percentage of abusing priests are heterosexuals, not homosexuals.


Father Andrew M. Greeley, sociologist and author of best-seller fiction, has written in the Jesuit publication America on this topic, and the material has been picked up by mainstream journals, including even the Boston Globe, located in the very heart of Catholic America.   He has estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 Catholic clergy in the USA have abused young people.  This is, he says, an educated guess, based on the rates of abuse revealed in Chicago and the fact that at a minimum every victimiser has at least 50 victims.  One of Greeley's novels, Fall From Grace, deals with the topic as one element in the story.

Many gay men entered the priesthood during the period after the Birth Control edict in 1968, when thousands of priests left to get married.  As thousands of heterosexual priests departed there was almost a flood of gay priests in the other direction, into the ministry.  So there was a massive change in composition of the priesthood.  Greeley thinks most of the abusive priests would, had they been married, abuse members of their own families.
In April 1994 the Catholic Diocese of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, was ordered to pay over $US1.5 million in damages to Mr Michael Hutchison, 26, who had allegedly been sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest, the Reverend Francis Luddy.  Hutchison claimed he had been abused while serving as an altarboy through a period of six years terminating in 1984.  The priest admitted to homosexual attacks on five boys, including the brother of Michael, but denied assaulting Michael himself.  The award was ordered on the basis that the Catholic Church had deliberately ignored the children's complaints. 
Regrettably the involvement of homosexual or allegedly homosexual priests in abuse cases has reflected on the gay rights movement.  Father Bernard Lynch, an Irish priest working in the USA, was charged on 18 April 1989 with the sexual abuse four years earlier of a then 14-year-old boy, John Schaeffer.  Father Lynch was well known both within the Church and outside as a gay rights activist and had clashed with the Catholic Archbishop of New York over his activities.  He was also a worker among AIDS-infected people.  According to the charges the priest had fondled the boy and had the boy handle his penis.  The priest had earlier worked at St Michael's Academy, a private Marist Brothers' school in the Bronx, but had resigned two and half years before.  He had been chaplain there for eight years from 1976. 

When the trial came to court the prosecution's case collapsed.  Schaeffer refused to testify and later, in a television appearance, claimed that the FBI had coerced him into making the accusations against the priest in the first place.  The judge dealing with the matter, in scenes televised publicly, vigorously castigated the prosecutor and said as there was in his view a reasonable doubt about the whole incident and the prosecution had failed to back its allegations, he would discharge the priest as 'not guilty'.
In later television appearances Father Lynch claimed that the whole saga had been 'political,' as there were those in the Church wanting to get rid of him because of his liberal views.  He had been told a year before that they would 'find a boy' to testify against him.  Interestingly, the college principal, who refused to have anything to do with the priest, later died of AIDS!  A vocal trio of teachers who virtually accused the priest of guilt by association (with gays) helped a branch of an organization, SAFE (Students Against Faggots in Education) establish itself at the school.  At one point during investigations the priest's own Order sent him back to Ireland but when questioned by the media the Church claimed he had 'fled' to Ireland.


The cases are so many it would require a large reference work to record all the details.  Here are a few scattered ones from the USA  . . .

• Diana Hoffman, now a psychotherapist, from Philadelphia, was sexually abused by both a nun and a priest from the age of 7 years until she was 11.  She suffered everything from fondling through to full rape during this period.  She was living at an orphanage and the priest concerned was the chaplain there.
• Mary Staggs had a priest 'friend' who was a 'father figure' to her.  In California, between the ages of 15 and 17 she was molested by the priest.  Her stepfather found sexually-explicit letters the priest had been writing to her and confronted the Church authorities.  The priest admitted to the sexual abuse but was still permitted to work as a priest.  After Mary left home he found her and assaulted her again.  She filed a suit and he admitted his guilt publicly in 1991 and also to having had sexual relationships with other adult women, but he still went on working as a parish head priest, ministering to 3,900 families.

• Pamela Payne was sexually abused by a priest who was a friend of her parents, when she was aged 10.  He was not the parish priest.  The abuse took place at a Knights of Columbus Club to which her parents belonged.  She had no 'spiritual' relationship with the priest.  He simply attacked her, 'violently' in her words.  Because of the situation with her parents and their friendship with the priest she did not think they would believe her if she told.  She had only contacted the Church much later after being urged to do so by other survivors.

• In Hawaii, Father Otto Bryan was accused of sexually abusing at least 33 children over a period of 23 years.  One victim later received a $1 million payout following civil action.  Bryan entered a 'no contest' plea and in 1992 was found guilty of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy.  He was sentenced to serving 5 years on probation.

• Father Bruce Ritter of New York was in 1990 forced to resign as head of Covenant House, a well-known charity he founded, following charges of sexually molesting a boy in his care.

• A mother reported that her son was molested  in first grade, at the age of just 6 years by a priest, who used the excuse of getting the boy to go into the sacristy and help wash some of the dishes from the altar.  The family did not find out about it until he was aged 9.  The Church did not like it when the parents complained and instead of acting, they turned around and sued the family for defamation, as they had contacted the civil authorities!

• David Glohessy, now an activist, testified to the abuse he received as a boy. He has a brother who is currently a priest in the same diocese.  The memories only came back after watching a movie.
• Ed Morris was abused between the ages of 14 and 19 at a Catholic high school and then in a seminary, in Philadelphia, where the priest was his 'spiritual director'. The abuse often took place in the confessional.  In October 1988 he went to the Church with his complaints and they didn't want to raise the matter as, they said, the priest was now 'an old man'. In 1989 he filed a suit, while the Catholic Church has filed a countersuit against his parents.

• Stephen Palo was first abused by a priest at the age of 8 and the relationship continued until he was 28.  The priest was a 'family friend' in the diocese of Camden, New Jersey.  He 'psychologically took over his mind'. The priest told him: 'God approves this; he was acting through God.'  At first he went to a church therapist who blamed him for what had happened.
• In November 1993 it was reported that an inquiry conducted on behalf of the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church in California uncovered the fact that sexual abuse of children had taken place at St Anthony's Seminary, Santa Barbara between 1964 and 1987.  At least 34 teenage boys had been molested by 11 or 12 friars.  The boys were reportedly engaged in nude games, various forms of fondling and in sex acts.  There would, however, be no prosecutions as the State has a statute of limitations on sex crimes that extends only to six years.  The seminary has since been closed. 


Many cases have been aired on US TV talk shows, notably the Oprah Winfrey Show, where on one edition, Bob Koenig detailed abuse by a parish priest, who not only established a sexual relationship with him -- mental bondage -- one he had found difficulty in extricating himself from, but had used physical bondage on his victim.  The priest had become friendly with his family and the boy often went to the rectory, where he was plied with glasses of altar wine.  Little by little sex was discussed and then masturbation, with practical demonstrations!
One day the priest called at the boy's house and persuaded him to go with him in his car.  Along the way he stopped the vehicle and produced some handcuffs, persuading Bob to 'try them on' - hands held behind his back - which he did.  As soon as he had clicked the handcuffs tight he produced a hidden rope and proceeded to hogtie the boy, linking his arms to his ankles behind his back.  He then tried to get his jeans off but finding this difficult drove back to the rectory with his captive.  There he dragged him face-down across the lawn and into the building, tearing his stomach in the process, after which he was sexually abused 'for a long time'.   The priest persisted in his abuse over some years, often giving Bob money and warning that nobody would believe him if he told anyone.
The priest had been careful to make Bob believe that he was at fault and was a 'sinner'.  Indeed Bob often attended confession and, he said, confessed in all to priests in at least 17 different places and on hundreds of occasions.  So far as we was aware none of these priests reported anything to anyone.  Only after 18 months of effort and going public did the Bishop begin to take some action.  Meanwhile every effort was made to deflect Bob and other critics, such as attacking their character and suggesting the possibility of monetary 'buy-offs'.
Joe McDonald, now executive director of the  Mental Health Association, Virginia, was abused by a parish priest 25 years earlier. As an altar-boy he worked around the rectory on weekends.  The priest also spent a lot time in his home. He would take Joe and one or two other boys on short trips, perhaps for two hours or so, but also sometimes on overnight stopovers.   On one of these longer outings he was sexually abused. There was another boy with them and the three spent a night at a hotel.  There were two beds in the room. The priest put the older boy in one bed and took Joe to bed with him.
The priest left the parish shortly after his experience and Joe had no contact or knowledge of him over the years.  But two years later the same priest was re-assigned to parish where his family were then living.  Joe confronted him one Sunday morning after Mass and asked him to resign and retire.  The priest was visibly shocked but did not immediately acknowledge remembering him.  He asked Joe for details of what he had done, then the priest answered thoughtfully: 'I suppose I could have done these things.  I might have been asleep . . . '  He did not show any aggression.  He was going on a retreat and said he would contact Joe again after the retreat.  Joe left him his business card.  Two days later the priest shot himself dead.  The Church says no one has come forward and accused the same priest. But Joe had spoken to other people and asserts that abuse by this priest at least involved three people multiple times.


But, while the USA has produced innumerable cases of child sex abuse by priests it is not alone in this regard.  Most Western nations have had their quota of stories to tell, even deeply Catholic Ireland!  Such revelations must have come as quite a shock to many pious Irish Catholics.  The political aftershocks have been enormous in that country.   One of the first cases became one of the most notorious.  While some Catholic priests were apparently enjoying themselves in gay bathhouses in the fair isle one of their number, the Reverend Brendan Smyth, was wanted by Northern Ireland authorities.  He was to face child sex-abuse charges.  The Irish Attorney-General's office had taken no action for seven months to have Father Smyth extradited to the north.
It appears that in this, as in many other situations, the Church authorities tried to sweep the affair under the carpet and act with a great degree of culpability in handling the priest.  Father Smyth, it seems, had a long history of the sexual abuse of children.  Smyth belonged to the Norbertime order and as far back as 1968 was being counselled for his pedophilia.  He had a history of child abuse stretching back well before this time.  Yet he was given one post after another where children were involved. 

In the United States he abused children in North Dakota and Rhode Island and as a result the Church paid out $20,000 to one victim.  The Church then accepted his return to Ireland and supplied him with a reference so he could get a job. And what was the job? Chaplain to a children's hospital!  All through this sorry saga the Church failed to act and it was only when the family of one victim complained to police that the wheels of justice began turning.  Even then the Catholic hierarchy tried to save a public scandal.
The former Bishop of Derry, Bishop Edward Daly, approached the Attorney-General seeking to have the matter dropped.  Meanwhile the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Cahal Daly, wrote to the family of one of the priest's victims - 16 months after they first complained.  The Cardinal expressed his regrets that the 'trouble continues' but claimed he was unable to do anything about the matter as the priest was under the control of his order.  Father Smyth eventually returned voluntarily, was found guilty and sentenced to four years in jail.  The Irish Government of the day fell soon after this and one of the factors was this cover-up.

Meanwhile we discover that cases abound in that good Catholic country as elsewhere.  A priest from Dublin was jailed for 12 years after being found guilty of abusing six boys at a boarding school.  Another priest in Belfast was facing charges relating to alleged indecent assault on several boys.  A brother of the Servite Order was jailed for assaulting three 11-year-old girls.  Another priest faced charges over the alleged assault of a 13-year-old boy following a family funeral.  A priest of 40 years' standing, Father Michael Carney, was given a 15-months suspended sentence for sexually assaulting a young male hitchhiker.  The most startling case involves alleged sexual abuse of up to 100 victims in Madonna House, a home run by nuns. 


And there have been other cases, so many that one newspaper commentator remarked that the allegations were arriving almost on a weekly basis!  In fact in November 1994 it was reported that 60 priests with sexual problems, mostly a strong sexual attraction to children, had been treated in a Dublin clinic during a six months' period.  The clinic had been set up by the Church.  Previously priests had been sent to an English clinic, Gracewell, in Birmingham, which - presumably - was already treating English priests for their sexual problems!  Bishop Laurence Forristal, head of an Irish Church special committee on sex abuse, was reportedly 'very surprised' at the number of priest referred there since the clinic was set up in April 1994.
A Dublin newspaper claimed that the Catholic Church had in 1993 paid a former altarboy £28,000 in settlement of his claims over abuse but had done so only on the condition that the victim remain silent.  It was alleged that a Dublin priest had been involved in sexual assaults between 1977 and 1980.  Late in September Dr Desmond Connell, Archbishop of Dublin, equivocated in statements over payments for alleged sex abuse.

In October 1994 an Irish prelate, Bishop Brendan Comiskey, was detained by Thai police after being found drunk and without a passport in Bangkok.  Bishop Comiskey had reportedly made a number of visits to Thailand.  It is uncertain as to what the Bishop was doing there but Thailand is a country noted for the prevalence of child prostitution.  Perhaps he was investigating the matter?  The same Bishop has reportedly declined to assist police inquiring into alleged sex abuse in his home diocese.
It was also reported late in 1995 that police were investigating claims of physical and sexual abuse at a Catholic reformatory and orphanage, St Joseph's, in Lower Sathill, Galway.  Three Christian Brothers were alleged to have abused a number of inmates.  It might be noted in passing that physical abuse often accompanies the sexual abuse of children, as the threat of force is used to keep the children silent.  And at another level, proving once again that priests are human, Father Michael Cleary, a Dublin broadcaster touted as a moral conservative, did not deny he had fathered two sons.  His housekeeper gave the public this interesting piece of news.  She should know, she was the mother.

Late in 1995 it was revealed that the Irish Catholic Church had loaned a sum of £27,500 to a priest to pay damages awarded in a civil case involving sexual abuse.  The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell, approved the loan, granted in 1993.  The priest had reportedly worked in a children's hospital for two years.  The sexual assault was alleged to have occurred between 1977 and 1980 and at least one altarboy was involved.  The priest was moved from one parish to another, evidently after complaints had been made about his behaviour, but no other action was taken by the Church.


News of the loan caused an uproar in Ireland but the Church hastened to assert that its actions did not imply admission of liability.  Following a string of sexual abuse cases Cardinal Cahal Daly, Primate of All Ireland, has denied that the Church has tried to cover up what had been happening within its ranks, although it is evident that in Ireland as elsewhere the usual mode of dealing with such cases was simply to move the offending priest on.  In October 1995 the Vatican became so concerned it sent a special papal envoy to investigate alleged clerical sex abuse in the Irish church.  Archbishop Jorge Mejia was to investigate clergy there, including 'senior prelates'.

In 2008 civil authorities in Ireland were moved to investigate in depth the abuse of children by members of the Catholic Church. Two major inquiries were launched, the first dealing with abuse by priests, nuns and lay teachers in state schools and orphanages since the 1940s and the second dealing with abuse in the parochial situation. However, while the first report covered the whole of Ireland the second report dealt specifically with Dublin Archdiocese only.

Children, especially boys, were not only subjected to sexual and emotional abuse in institutions but often suffered sadistic physical abuse as well. Screams in the night testified to inhuman punishments being meted out at the whim of a priest or nun. The boys and girls were helpless to defend themselves against such assaults. They had no one to whom to turn. They were completely in the control of the clerics.


Apart from the appalling sexual abuse, especially of boys, physical abuse by both nuns and priests was the big story. Humiliating punishments were meted out at every opportunity. Nakedness was used to great effect, with stories of children being deliberately made to stand, under some pretext or others, naked in front of the assembled inmates and staff. And the naked child was a great target for cane and strap. Beatings could be virtually anywhere - on the buttocks, about the head, the palms of the hands or the backs of the hands, and even the soles of the child's bare feet.

One girl told investigators of her encounter with a particular nun who was unsatisfied at the manner in which she was holding out her hand for punishment and ordered the girl to hold out both hands. She was given 10 strokes on each hand with the strap. She ended up with a big yellow blister on one hand.

A boy who had just come out of hospital after an ear operation and was wearing bandages over his ears didn't hear a bell ringing. A sister apprehended him and beat him all over his body with a cane, resulting him having to return to hospital. The nun had injured his ear again.

Not all punishments involved beatings. Some respondents reported being burnt by having their hands held over a hot stove or having their heads held under water or being forced into very cold or scalding hot baths and showers. Nettles were a favoured punishment device in some places - children being pushed into patches of nettles or beaten over the legs with them or putting nettles in the beds of girls who wet the bed.  Being made to kneel for hours on a hard surface was not uncommon. And various forms of confinement - locked in furnace-rooms, animals' sheds, broom cupboards and other restricted spaces - also occurred. One girl told of being taken to a storeroom by a sister, made to kneel, and then of having her hair roughly cut off. She was left kneeling in the room for the rest of the day - about six hours.

Bed-wetting by boys and girls, a normal reaction of many children to stress, was often punished by humiliation, e.g. in some institutions the child would be made to stand outside the office of the resident manager or sister with the wet sheet over his or her head, waiting to be beaten. In a few cases the child had to wear the wet sheet while they sat eating breakfast or in the classroom. One girl reported being made to stand on her bed with the wet sheet over her head, 'If you fell asleep (while standing) the sister would come at you with a stick. She hit you on the back and then you would be so sore you couldn't sleep.'

Another form of punishment was to make a child either stand or kneel to eat their meals at a 'penance table'. Being made to stand for long periods, usually awaiting a beating, was a common occurrence. In one institution the children were often kept standing for hours in their bare feet on a cold stone floor. They were not permitted to sit; they just had to wait and think about the cane or strap that would eventually lash their bodies. Some of the children told investigators that they found the waiting worse than the punishment.

Turning to the report on Dublin, among the findings it is alleged that not only did hundreds of Catholic priest conspire to cover-up sex abuse in the Church but even three bishops and a cardinal were involved in this dereliction of duty.

The report found that the Irish police service treated the priesthood as being beyond the law. 'Don't ask, don't tell' seemed to be the order of the day. The avoidance of any scandal and the preservation of the good name of the Church and its priests dominated the situation. The state of the children was barely considered.

The investigation revealed that the first details of allegations were reported to Cardinal Desmond Connell 14 years earlier, when he was an archbishop. He was shown to have complaints against 28 priests in his files at the time. In several cases where priests were accused of just one crime, they admitted to multiple abuses.

One priest admitted to perpetrating fortnightly attacks on a child during his 25-year tenure of a parish. Another admitted abuse of more than 100 children. And in another case two priests had abused the same child.

At a news conference following the publication of the report, the current Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was shamed by its findings and offered an apology to survivors. The Irish Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, said he read the report as a politician: 'But on a human level - as a father and as a member of this community - I felt a growing sense of revulsion and anger at the horrible, evil acts committed against children.'

In December 2009 the former Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Bishop Donal Murray, resigned. The resignation announcement made no mention of the scandal but the government report had said the Bishop handled complaints about child-abusing priests 'particularly badly.' One priest in particular, the Reverend Thomas Naughton, had been transferred from one parish to another in spite of reports that he was molesting children. Two weeks later a second Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, James Moriarty, also resigned.

In October 1995 the phrase 'altarboy' had become so besmirched that reportedly US singer Rickie Lee Jones withdrew from an Irish TV show after a song he wanted to use, The Altar Boy, was banned.  It was thought by the station's controllers that the song would be misunderstood in the current climate, with so many sex abuse cases involving priests and altarboys emerging into the light of day. 


In England, too, many cases have surfaced.  Typical was that of Helen O'Neil. She was abused at the age of 15 and the abuse continued until she was 21. Helen went as a teenager to a retreat centre. The priest told her she was 'someone special' and that he 'needed her' and he had to be involved sexually with her to be able to spiritually guide her better.  Only recently she discovered what had happened through flashbacks. 

In July 1992 Simon Marlow, 31, alleged on a television program, World in Action (ITV) that while he was a pupil at the Barlborough Hall School, in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, run by the Jesuits, he and other boys were 'interfered with' by a priest.  He asserted that the Catholic Church was sheltering pedophiles.

In August 1992 Father Michael Creagh, 56, formerly Deputy Housemaster at Douai Abbey School in Berkshire, pleaded guilty in Reading Crown Court to the indecent assault of a 12-year-old boy who boarded at the school.  The first assault was said to have occurred when the child sought counselling on the onset of puberty and continued thereafter over a period of about nine months.  In the hearing it was claimed by police that when they began investigations at the school the monks, members of the Benedictine Order, 'closed ranks' even although a newspaper had revealed that there were allegations from four boys of abuse having occurred.  Creagh had been quietly transferred elsewhere in the meantime - in the time-honoured fashion.
At this time Mr Ray Wyre, an expert on child sex abusers, commented that he did not find it surprising that the school had attempted a cover-up.  'Traditionally Church authorities have dealt with these problems in secrecy.'  Mr Wyre reported that he had treated ten Catholic priests as patients over the previous two years.


In Australia a whole raft of abuse allegations were made against priests involved in the Christian Brothers Order, especially in Western Australia, where boys were abused both physically (and often cruelly) and sexually by a number of priests.  These were children who had been brought to the country from Britain as orphans or unwanted children, many of whom, especially the boys, had subsequently found themselves virtual prisoners and slave-labourers, being put to work labouring long hours barefoot on heavy construction projects, being beaten unmercifully for any infraction of the rules and, worse, being used as sexual playthings by men who should have known better.

An organization was established by former inmates of the Church homes, especially the most notorious establishment of all, Bindoon, in Western Australia.  Known as VOICES - 'Victims of Institutionalized Cruelty, Exploitation and Supporters' - it campaigned for redress.  But the Christian Brothers were not going to lie down without a fight.  On 1 July 1994 an Australian news report said that the Order had forced publishers HarperCollins to withdraw 'a book' (unnamed) from sale.  The book was due to be published on that date.  The matter was before the NSW Supreme Court, which had ordered suppression of any mention of the subject or the author's name.  The publishers had been forced to stop any advertising or promotion for the book pending the outcome of the case.  The book turned out to be When Innocence Trembles by Kate Davies, which was later put on the market by VOCAL.

After a protracted saga, during which the Christian Brothers hired expensive lawyers in order to avoid a court case being heard in NSW (for reasons that will become obvious) the Order in October 1994 released a Report they had commissioned.  It was stated at this time that no material had been passed to police for further action, a fact strongly criticized by VOICES as a whitewash.  The Christian Brothers claimed that any individuals involved had long since left the Order and there was no point in referring matters to police.  The Christian Brothers did, however, manage to publish a public apology in a series of newspaper advertisements.
Actions against priests in Western Australia have been hindered by State laws that limit the period after an alleged crime in when legal proceedings can be instituted.  Late in 1993 the Director of Public Prosecutions in that State ruled out action against some former Christian Brothers allegedly involved in physical and sexual abuse of children due to the long period involved. A nice cop-iout for the Church.
Even presentation of a Petition to the State Parliament bearing 30,000 signatures failed to move the authorities to act.  Interestingly, although the authorities evidently prosecuted other sex abuse cases that had occurred in the same era they appeared to be avoiding prosecuting ex-priests!  However, former victims of the system were pursuing a compensation claim in the NSW Supreme Court, where such might not be limited.  In December 1994 the court dismissed an application to transfer the case to Western Australia.  (The trustees of the Christian Brothers are located in NSW.)
Interestingly in June 1994 Gerard William Dick, 67, a former Christian Brother in Perth, was found guilty of charges involving 'indecently dealing with' boys aged between 8 and 10 at a Christian Brothers' orphanage.  The alleged offences occurred in a period beginning in 1960.  He was sentenced to 1-1/2 years' jail.


On 22 May 1994 it was announced that the Catholic Church had removed a priest from his work after he admitted molesting three young girls in two Victorian parishes about 40 years previously.  The priest, said to be in his mid-1970s, was confronted by three adult women who accused him of abusing them as children.  However, the alleged abuse was drawn to the attention of Church authorities 18 months previously and it took all that time for the Church to act.  There was no mention of police charges being laid in this case.  

On 8 March 1994 it was reported that a Catholic priest from Sydney had been charged with indecently assaulting two former altarboys, aged 10 and 14 at the time of the alleged offences.  Father Peter Lewis Comensoli, 55, of Glebe (NSW), was remanded to appear in the Downing Centre Court, Sydney.  In October 1994 Comensoli pleaded guilty to two charges of indecent assault. The court was told that as a 12-year-old boy Comensoli had wrestled nude with other boys and that this was the extent of his sexual experience.  Comensoli allegedly assaulted one boy, aged 11 when the first contacts were made, during overnight stays at the church presbytery.  The boy had been shown pornographic videos and had wrestled with the priest.  The 11-year-old had been invited to the presbytery to help with odd jobs, for which he was paid. 

The subject, in a written statement, said: 'He would also want to wrestle with me and during the wrestles he would grab me by the testicles . . . and say things like, "Have you been thinking about girls?".'  He also said that the priest 'masturbated' him and encouraged him to use masturbation himself on perhaps 10 to 15 occasions. These activities continued during several visits between then and when the boy was 13.  The priest also admitted he had provided alcohol and cigarettes to a 17-year-old youth who visited him at the presbytery. On one occasion he had shown him a pornographic video and had fondled him.  The court heard from a forensic psychiatrist, Dr William Barclay, that Comensoli was 'neither a homosexual nor a pedophile'.  He was, said the doctor, a heterosexual with a deviant sex drive. 

Judge Angela Karpin commented that the Catholic Church had done little during the late 1950s to help Comensoli to come to terms with his sexuality or to prepare him for a life of celibacy.  'The prisoner's background and development can only have contributed to these offences,' she added.  During the trial it was revealed that the priest had once confessed to another priest but the latter had merely advised him to 'place his reliance on prayer.'  In October 1994 Comensoli was sentenced to a minimum of 18 months' imprisonment for the indecent assault of two boys. 


While boys are more often than not the objects of priestly attacks girls are not immune. On 14 March 1994 the support group Broken Rites Australia said that the Catholic Church had apologized to a 33-year-old Queensland woman, identified then only as 'Kate', who had been sexually abused as an 12-year-old girl by a priest.  The Dominican Order had agreed to pay the costs of counselling for the woman who now lived in northern Queensland.  Later 'Kate' decided to reveal her true identity in order to speak out against the abuse.  Keren Handley, aka Kate, complained that during her high school years she had tried to tell someone what had happened to her but there was no response and her Catholic mother refused to face up to what had occurred.
The late Father Dominic Fitzmaurice assaulted the girl while she was a student at the St Martin's Girls' Primary School in Karina, a Brisbane suburb, in 1972.  Father Fitzmaurice of Our Lady of Graces Church had a reputation for fondling the pupils' breasts at the school, so much so that he became known as The Groper.  A spokesperson for Broken Rites, Ms Chris Wilding, commented: 'He even used to touch the breasts of the girls' mothers and teachers.  The mothers regarded him as a “dirty old man” but they could do nothing about it because he was the parish priest and there was nobody to complain to.'  Broken Rites later discovered that in 1973, a year after Keren left the school, students there were actually warned by the head sister to keep away from the priest!

The groping had gone further with Keren, who had been raped by the priest but the assault was kept quiet until 1994.  Father Fitzmaurice died in Ireland in 1975, aged 62.  The Catholic Church did not deny the allegations although in a letter to the woman from the head of the Order in Australia, Father Mark O'Brien said they did not accept responsibility for the priest's actions but wanted to help financially so she could 'cope with the painful memory.'  The Bishop of Townsville, the Most Rev. Raymond Benjamin, also wrote to Keren, saying: 'As a priest myself I cannot avoid a sense of shame that one of us, sent by the Church to give you the good news of Christ, could have left behind nothing good but only memories of abuse and shame.'
Meanwhile, to prove that not only Catholic priests could offend, a retired Anglican priest, the Reverend Leslie James Wiggins, 63, of Rosebud, Victoria (Australia) was in July 1991 given a suspended sentence for indecently assaulting three boys, aged 11 and 12.  Mr Wiggins was a former Associate Chaplain at the classy Anglican school, Trinity Grammar, in Melbourne.  He was sentenced to three months on each of four charges.  And another Anglican priest, Father Eric William Griffith, 50, was sent to jail in late 1992 for 18 months for molesting a choirboy.  The boy was aged 14. The priest gave him gifts and took him on trips.

But the Catholic educational system in Australia added a long list of cases.  In 1987 it was claimed that a lay teacher at St Joseph's Christian Brothers' College, Geelong (Victoria) was allegedly an abuser.  According to one boy victim, in the first approaches he was fondled, then the assaults graduated to oral sex and finally anal intercourse was attempted. The abuse began one day when he was kept after school by the teacher.  It continued between the ages of 12 and 14.  Another ex-student of the same school also alleged he was abused between the ages of 10 and 14 years.  A physical education teacher was allegedly involved in his case. The boy would be abused during lunch breaks, being fondled, and given what the teacher, according to the boy, described as 'our little tickle'. 


After these cases were made public ten other men from the same classes came forward.  One boy, who was 14 at the time, reported abuse during weight-training classes.  There was no penetration but the man's penis was rubbed on the boy.  He also exposed himself to him.  The teacher denied the allegations.  There were other reports of boys having their crotch fondled and their penises stroked.
In August 1993 a former Catholic priest, Brother Nestor, aka John Aloysius Littler,  pleaded guilty to and was convicted on three counts of indecent assault in the District Court in NSW.  The charges had been laid after Rodney Stinson, then aged 46, had come forward with information on abuse he had been subjected to when, in 1962 as a 15-year-old, he had been living in the St Vincent's Boys' Home, Westmead (Sydney).  Littler was put on a five-year good behaviour bond.  Mr Stinson had been stirred into action as a result of watching a television program on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, The Ultimate Betrayal, on ABC-TV.
Mr Stinson later said he had suppressed the events but this had resulted in considerable emotional harm.  However, although the convictions had resulted from this information, when he later sought special leave to sue the Marist Brothers Order for compensation, this was refused.  In September 1995 Master Bryan Malpass told the man it was 'too late' to do so.  The long delay would prejudice the Order's defence against the claim.  Following this ruling Mr Stinson said he would appeal.  He said that he had received no word of apology from the Order.  For their part the Marist Brothers claimed, in a press release, that, although they deplored the actions of the former brother, he was no longer a member of their Order and thus, by inference, they were apparently no longer responsible!
In November 1993 it was reported that a former student at the St John of God Catholic School at Kendall Grange, Morisset (NSW), claimed he had been sexually abused and beaten over a period of three years from the age of 11 by a brother while attending the school in the early 1980s.  This matter was listed as one of 40 cases cited in a writ issued against religious institutions out of the Victorian Supreme Court.  The man, aged 26 in 1995, now lives in Melbourne.  As a result of his physical and sexual abuse the student, it has been claimed, suffered an 'antisocial personality disorder' and schizoid paranoia.
The abuse, which occurred on 'many, many occasions,' allegedly took place in the school's dormitory and showers and in other places between June 1980 and September 1983 and involved forced sexual intercourse.  These actions, it was claimed, provided opportunities for the teacher to 'satisfy his lust and sexual perversion.' The boy was a boarder at the school during a period when it catered for boys with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.  The statement of claim alleged that the school trustees had been negligent as the brother had a 'known propensity' for assaulting pupils both physically and sexually.  He was, the statement claimed, 'lustful and sexually perverse.'  The teacher had threatened the boy and had beaten him and pulled his hair as a warning against telling anyone about the assaults.
It was reported in the Newcastle Herald that the school no longer employed the brother concerned.  The Melbourne legal firm of Maurice Blackburn, which was handling the case on behalf of the 40 alleged victims of abuse, noted that a further 60 complaints were being investigated.


On Sunday, April 10, 1994, a group of 15 people representing the Friends of Susanna, held a vigil outside a Catholic seminary at Kensington, a southern Sydney suburb.  It was the beginning of a Conference of Catholic Bishops being held there.  One item on the agenda dealt with sexual abuse in the Church.  The Friends of Susanna, survivors of sexual abuse by clergy of the Catholic Church, claimed that the Church was not giving the issue sufficient prominence.

In May 1994 Gerald Francis Ridsdale, a former priest at Warrnambool, (Victoria) faced a committal hearing over charges of sexual abuse against 14 young boys.  Ridsdale, then living in Sydney, was charged on 180 counts against boys in various Victorian country parishes between 1969 and 1982.  Ridsdale was initially charged with 21 counts of buggery, 2 of attempted buggery, 55 counts of gross indecency and 102 counts of indecent assault.  The alleged offences involved boys aged between 10 and 16 and allegedly occurred at Apollo Bay, Mortlake, Ballarat, Horsham, Swan Hill, Edenhope and Inglewood.  He had been caring for two of the boys after their father died.  Ridsdale reserved his plea but in October of that year was found guilty in the Victorian County Court after pleading guilty to 46 counts of sexual assault.  He was sentenced to 15-to-18 years imprisonment.

Ridsdale, 60, was told by Judge John Dee: 'Your acts of debauchery were wicked and appalling.  Twenty-one victims had been identified, mostly altarboys, during a 21-year period from 1961  . . .'  The charges included sexual assault on a girl under 16.  The girl had been attending her father's funeral with her 10-year-old brother when Ridsdale, who was officiating, approached their mother and suggested the children might like to stay with him so as to 'better cope with the tragedy of their father's death.'  She had been assaulted that very night.  He later abused her young brother.

The Judge commented that in general the offences involved intimate fondling, oral sex, anal penetration and 'mutual masturbation.'  Some assaults had occurred in church buildings.  One boy was assaulted in the confessional box, Mr Risdale pulling down his pants and fondling him while the priest advised him to confess his sins!  Another boy was given a piece of holy bread as a reward!

Judge Dee criticized the Catholic Church for not providing better support for victims of such abuse.  The Church was, the Judge asserted, 'more concerned about its image' than helping people.  A spokesperson for the support group Broken Rites, Ms Chris Wilding, said the decision was a victory for the victims but added that there are many other priests yet to be charged.

As the years pass the stream of cases keeps flowing. A few more Australian cases in brief . . .

• In December 1994 a former Catholic priest, Michael John Evans, committed suicide in a car near Rockhampton, Queensland.  The priest had just been served with a summons to attend questioning by detectives at Wollongong (NSW) on child sexual abuse charges, but had failed to appear.  Evans was originally the Principal of a Catholic high school, Edmund Rice College, in Wollongong.  He had been charged on five counts of sexually interfering with students.

• At the end of 1994 a small Catholic order, the Brothers of St Gerard Majella, located in a Sydney western suburb, was disbanded on orders of the Bishop of Parramatta, the Most Reverend Bede Heather.  Police had received allegations that members of the order had molested teenagers who had been training to become priests.  The order specialized in running retreats for high school students and conducting classes in religion at NSW high schools.  The first allegations were made in November 1994 and these were followed by others.  A special police task force was set up to investigate and police later reported that attacks allegedly occurred between 1973 and 1993.  As at January 1995 some 16 complaints had been received.

• Meanwhile, at about the same time, Father Richard Cattell, 54, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Parramatta, was sentenced to 3-1/2 years' jail after pleading guilty to five counts of indecently assaulting a young boy between 1973 and 1976.

• In May 1995 Edward Vernon Dowlan, 45, appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 77 charges, including buggery, indecent assault and common law assault.   Dowlan, a member of the Christian Brothers Order, had taught at schools in Melbourne and in country areas of Victoria between 1971 and 1985.  It was expected that the court would hear statements from 25 alleged victims.

In 1997, at the height of the scandals over sex abusing priests, a treatment facility known as Encompass was opened by the Australian Catholic Church. The centre provided counselling and assistance for clergy suffering 'psychosexual and other mental disorders.' During the following decade or so that followed more than 1,100 priests and other workers passed through its doors. However, it is reported the church hierarchy were unwilling to spend a further $200,000 required to maintain the treatment program and in 2008 the facility was closed down.

Maybe the closure was premature for in the same year police began investigating accusations made by former pupils of abuse at a major Australian Catholic college - St Stanislaus, Bathurst (in western New South Wales). Strike Force Belle was set up by NSW Police with the sole purpose of investigating allegations of sexual and indecent assault against students at two Bathurst schools between 1960 and 1993.  Numerous charges have been laid against various individuals.

At last count nine former teachers were being investigated, inckluding the former school chaplain of St Stanislaus, Brian Spillane. The court heard that an informant alleged he had witnessed Spillane sexually and indecently assaulting students during prayer sessions. The informant alleged he also saw Spillane engaging in sexual activity with students in a shower block. A total of 132 charges were laid against Spillane, who was, however, granted bail over the objections of the prosecution.

The court also heard when one student complained to another teacher he was sent to a psychiatric institution for assessment - an all too familiar reaction.


Canada has produced its own rash of cases.  When a fictionalized story based on fact, The Boys of St Vincent, was produced as a film the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation refused to screen it on its TV channels (in deference to its large French-speaking Catholic audience?) The movie, directed by John N. Smith, dealt with actual events alleged to have occurred in the St Vincent's Boys' Home, operated by the Christian Brothers.  Boys were not only allegedly abused sexually, including being subjected to anal rape, but suffered physical abuse if they complained.
I do not know if Canadians have yet seen this film but it has been shown in many other countries, including my own.  In Canada in August 1991 the Reverend Edward English, of the Christian Brothers, was given a 12-year prison sentence for abusing school children in his care, while in 1992 it was reported that as many as 28 present or former Christian Brothers had been charged with a wide variety of offences.  Earlier many priests in Newfoundland were charged with assaulting young boys, especially in the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St John's.  In 1989 Government officials said they had received complaints from up to 35 boys who claimed to have been molested and beaten while living in the orphanage in the 1970s.
As in so many other areas of the world, little or nothing had been done when evidence of abuse first began emerging.  Some complaints went back to 1971 and a number of prosecutions launched yet when the Government set up an inquiry in 1989 the Archbishop of Newfoundland, Alphonsus Penney, refused to condemn any priests, even those convicted and sentenced for their crimes!  As in Ireland the effect of these revelations has been a damaging one for the Church in the community.   Eventually an orphanage run by the Christian Brothers in Newfoundland was pulled down and the land sold to finance assistance for victims of the abusing priests.

In 1992 the Christian Brothers of Ontario announced they had agreed to establishing a fund of $US15 million to settle civil lawsuits instituted by some 350 victims of alleged abuse.  The men claimed they had been abused in two reform schools in Ontario, operated by the Order, a lay group apparently unconnected with the major Christian Brothers Order, on behalf of the Provincial Government.  And a native American group in Canada in the same year issued a report on violence suffered by women and children.  'Young boys,' it said, 'were subject to sexual abuse by religious men, including ministers, priests and brothers in religious orders.'
In September 1994 twenty-eight men filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Christian Brothers in Toronto, Canada.  They allege they were subjected by the brothers to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.  Their claims included frequent and severe beatings and being sodomised as youths at a Catholic reform school in Ontario, run by the Brothers. 


On 14 June 1994, Monsignor Peter Gwynne McCormack, 58, formerly a Catholic Vicar-General of a diocese on the North Island of New Zealand, pleaded guilty of the sexual abuse of a teenage girl.  Mr McCormack had stepped down from his post a year previously.  In the Palmerston North High Court he pleaded guilty to eight counts of the sexual abuse of the girl from 1986, when she was aged 12, through to 1992.   The victim was subjected to oral sexual assault and attempted anal assault, plus manual manipulation.  The court was told that Father McCormack was a 'father figure' to the girl and he had committed a gross breach of trust.

McCormack reportedly advised his church on sex abuse cases and helped draft guidelines on how the Catholic Church should handle such cases!  He was sentenced to four years' jail.  The Sydney Morning Herald report on the matter described the man merely as 'a priest'.  This paper, which I happen to respect in many matters, has often tended to ignore or play down many of the reports of abuse, even ignoring the massive Boston and Massachusetts payouts, by Catholic priests for a long period and has only reported extensively such cases in the last three or four years.
Glimpses of possible abuse come to us from numerous countries.  When Daniel Camargo, a serial killer known as the Beast of the Andes, spoke of his childhood he told how at the Leon 13th Catholic College in Bogota, Colombia, where he studied as a boy in the early 1940s, the priests were engaged in so much sexual activity with the children that he left again 'in disgust' at the age of 14 and took to the streets.  The testimony of such a notorious criminal is possibly unreliable but it could well be true from what we know of life in Catholic educational institutions elsewhere.

It is evident from cases dealt with in many places that one of the chief complaints, often laid by lay people who are dedicated Catholics themselves, is the lack of action on the part of Church authorities or even of attempts to gloss over or hide what is revealed.  In March 1994 James Hogan, formerly Bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese (USA) for over 20 years, admitted publicly that he had done little when reports of abuse reached his ears.  For example, he said that one priest was known for his actions of removing boys' shoes and rubbing his penis on the bared soles of the feet of young boys [must have been a foot fetishist as well as a sexual pervert]. Bishop Hogan warned the priest in a 1987 letter that he should desist from his activities but took no further action. The bishop admitted - with amazing naiveté -that he did not at the time realize such an activity might be connected with child sexual molestation or be a form of sexual deviation.

The bishop was testifying in the trial in Pennsylvania of another priest, the Reverend Francis Luddy, accused of molesting Michael Hutchison, Jr, over a period of some 6 or 7 years.  The abuse began when Hutchison was aged 11.  Hutchison said that a number of priests molested children in the diocese and parents complained - as far back as 1979 - but the Church simply moved them about rather than acting decisively to stop the abuse. Another priest admitted he fondled and performed oral sex on a naked boy and watched X-rated videos with him, according to the bishop's testimony.  This priest, he said, promised the bishop he would stop such activities.  A third priest also admitted, in 1984, that he had fondled boys and the bishop had ordered him to return to a seminary to 'reflect on what he had done.'


The Donahue Show over a long period featured interviews with people who had been abused as children by Catholic priests.  It should be noted that Phil Donahue is himself a Catholic and was educated in the Catholic school system and that most of these guests were still practising Catholics, in spite of all they went through.  But the dismay and hurt evident in so many lives could not be hidden, even by good Catholics.

Among those appearing on the show was Barbara Blaine, an abused member of the Church who works among the poor in a Catholic institution in Chicago.   She said she did not want to sue or take other legal action but just wanted her Church to act responsibly.  Blaine is founder and national co-ordinator of the US Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests [SNAP].  SNAP has convened assemblies in St Louis, Chicago, and other places to bring together survivors of priestly sex abuse.  The group has its own newsletter. They are encouraging Catholics to come out with details of abuse and to get the Church to act accordingly.

Barbara herself was abused by her parish priest at the age of 13 while on a retreat.  One day she was invited to dine with the priest and a number of guests at dinner at the rectory.  The other people left after the meal and when she was alone with the priest he began fondling her.  There was no intercourse.  She told a couple of youth workers what had taken place but nothing was done so she just 'went on with her life.'  Over subsequent years the priest found occasions to fondle her again.  When he had erections he told her it was 'her fault'.  Further, he then tried to hide the real nature of his approaches by claiming Barbara was more 'spiritually attractive' than the other children in the parish and told her that God was 'blessing this relationship.'
The sexual encounters were more or less forgotten incidents of her youth until at the age of 28 she read an article in the National Catholic Reporter by Jason Berry telling about priests sexually abusing altarboys.  She thought when she read the item that this 'probably doesn't happen to girls, only boys; hers was a one-off case.'
Although she continued for many years to assume the encounter she had was an isolated incident she did confront the priest concerned and was told by him to 'pull a shade' over that part of her life and forget it ever happened.   In 1985 and 1986 she went to his superior, then the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio.  A psychologist was called in and the priest confronted with the accusations.  He admitted them at that point but over the next two years she was told he had retracted his confession.


After this the Church authorities claimed they never knew that he had done anything! The priest himself now asserts that during the period, the 1960s and 1970s, it was a time when everybody hugged and kissed and Barbara had simply misinterpreted what had taken place!  In February 1993 a Toledo newspaper did an exposé on Barbara's case and after this nine more victims of abuse by the same priest came forward and in March 1993 he was finally removed from the ministry.  The Church stated that he had been placed in a treatment program for priests and would not be allowed to work with children.  He was not, however, defrocked. 

Jason Berry also appeared on the Donahue Show. A journalist who was raised in the Catholic Church by the Jesuits and is still a Catholic, Berry had, he said, researched the subject of abusing priests for the previous seven years.  The Church leaders believe in social justice, he said, but after producing his book (Lead Us Not Into Temptation), he wonders about their social conscience.  How can the Bishops take such a strong position on abortion, protecting life in the womb, and at the same time play 'musical chairs' with child abusers?

Berry was himself abused as a boy by a priest in southern Louisiana in 1985. It has since been reported that this particular priest molested over 100 children. And he was just one of seven known abusing priests in this small community who had been 'recycled by the bishop' rather than being defrocked.  This was the story of the abuse of power, the power structure of the Catholic Church.  The bishops, he claimed, had engaged in a systematic cover-up of the dirty goings-on in many parishes.  He likened it to an ecclesiastical Watergate.

Among other subjects, Berry's book details an advertisers' boycott against a small newspaper in Louisiana that dared to publish some of the early stories about priestly abuse.  The local monsignor went about telling advertisers to pull out their ads and they did.  The paper managed to survive, however, in spite of this.  In Chicago the Church engaged high-powered lawyers to institute legal proceedings for defamation against Catholic families who dared to complain of priestly sex abuse!


But times are changing and the Catholic Church in recent years has shown itself ready to acknowledge publicly the harm that has been done by so many of its clerics.  In February 1995 the Catholic Church in Washington, DC, surprised everyone when a public announcement was made from the pulpits of five churches announcing the dismissal of four priests over sexual abuse of an altarboy.  The victim, aged 34 at the time of their dismissal, was abused by the four priests from the age of 11 or 12 until he was 17.

The priests were named as the Reverends Alphonsus Smith, now 70, Edward Pritchard, 50, Edward Hartel, 58, and Thomas Schaeffer, 69.  All four admitted to the offences when confronted with the claims by Monsignor William Lori, Chancellor of the diocese.  They were dismissed two weeks before the public announcement was made.  The Church also contacted The Washington Post and arranged for an interview with the victim, who has remained anonymous.  It was later reported the four priests had gone to treatment facilities.

A spokeswoman for Cardinal James Hickey admitted this was the first time the Archdiocese of Washington had so openly revealed sexual misconduct by its clergy.  A letter was read out in the five parishes involved after the celebration of the Sunday Mass.
Father Connors, a doctor of psychology, involved in the treatment program that was being run for abusing priests, was reported by The Age newspaper (Melbourne) as admitting that the Church had been denying the problem for too long and that some victims felt such denial was more hurtful than the original abuse.  But he was critical of financial settlements, some very large, that had been made recently in many US cases, to buy the silence of victims.  Such settlements are usually made on the basis that the claimant makes no further public comment on the subject.  There was an obvious desire to avoid complaints being formally lodged with police or other authorities, thus avoiding criminal court actions.  Father Connors described such settlements as 'an institutional sin.'


The whole unfolding saga of the past few years has proved to be a costly one for the Catholic Church.  In the USA as many as 100,000 victims have come forward in a single year.  This figure has been given in the US Catholic weekly journal, The Jesuit.   Vast sums have been paid out in compensation.  In the Chicago Archdiocese alone in 1992 the Church paid out $US1.8 million in lawsuits over child sexual abuse and the Cardinal at the time stated it would be a higher figure in 1993!  Greeley estimates that about $US40 million per year was being paid out across the USA by the Catholic Church, and from figures averaged over the past 10 years, i.e. a total of $US400 million (approx.) in that period. And many victims do not sue. They just want to get their Church to act against the abusing priests.

A court case in Milwaukee marked the first time in US history that the Catholic Church had been held liable to punitive damages and opened the door for successful prosecution of other churches.  It all started back in 1979 when a 13-year-old boy was sexually abused, along with many other young boys, by a priest, the Reverend Thomas Adamson.  The priest's attacks began soon after he was assigned to a new parish, that of the Immaculate Conception Church in Colombia Heights.  His nefarious activities continued, it is alleged, until 1987.

Eventually the boy, now grown, sued the Church for negligence.  It transpired that Church authorities were well aware of the priest's activities; they merely - as in so many other cases - transferred him to another parish, then another.  In each location he was once again brought into contact with young boys.  Lawyer Jeffrey R. Anderson also filed lawsuits on behalf of 12 other child victims.  He said he had identified at least 35.  Some of these cases had been settled out of court.

The present case, on appeal, resulted in the plaintiff receiving nearly $US1 million in punitive and compensatory damages.  Later Archbishop John Roach complained of the high punitive damages and foreshadowed a challenge, as he thought the matter would be 'important to all churches.'  How true!  With so many sexual abuse cases being uncovered in various denominations, involving both adults and children, the churches might well be concerned as to possible payouts.

The Archbishop added the ridiculous claim that such an award 'violated the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.'  Whose freedom?  Freedom to use the office of a religious minister to abuse people - notably children?


Late in 1993 it was reported that the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, faced possible bankruptcy due to the massive claims being made upon the Church by victims of sexual molestation by its priests.  As at that date claims totalling $50 million were being made and the Church also had to face huge bills for legal advice and for defence lawyers.

But it is evident that many hundreds of priests in times past have escaped justice as their cases have never been brought to the notice of civil authorities.  In April 1994 the Uniting Church in Australia released guidelines on the handling of sexual abuse in that church.  The guidelines specified that cases of sexual abuse involving children should be dealt with by the criminal justice system.  Cases involving adults would be dealt with by a Church committee to be set up in each State.  The Catholic Church has now more or less adopted similar guidelines across the world.

In May 1995 it was announced that the Church of England would ask all trainee vicars to vow that they had never abused children.  The Church made the move to try to protect children in their care, especially choirboys and members of confirmation classes.


In May 1994 the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council produced a document titled Sex Tourism in Asia in which it called the industry a 'scandal' which exploited children, women and men.  It called for a wide-ranging public debate on the issue, particularly on the subject of child prostitution in Asian countries and the targeting by Western male visitors of the young.
It is curious that a Catholic body should issue such a document for it has become painfully apparent in our time that Catholic clergy - at least sections of the clergy - are no strangers to the abuse of children.  Surely the Catholic Social Justice Council would be better employed cleaning up their own house!

(A further study will deal with child abuse in the manifold non-Catholic churches, especially in the USA.  It would appear sometimes that the Catholic Church is, due to its prominence - and, perhaps its self-aggrandisement? - too obvious a target; widespread abuse occurs in many denominations and we shall study some of these in a later account.)

© Mark Owen, 1991 & 2012 -

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