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When will the Church stop forgiving child abuse among the Clergy?

By John Massam - posted Tuesday, 15 April 2003


Clifford Longley's story of the Rotary Club Father Christmas forbidden to have children on his lap started an item headed "How can we deal with our collective paranoia over paedophiles?" in On Line Opinion. It was originally published in the British Catholic newspaper The Tablet of 25 January 2003 - and the purpose of the article was to defend a British Cardinal from the news media reporting that commentators want him to resign because he sheltered and kept employing a serial child sex-abuser.

The rough-and-ready public does not have "paranoia" but we do have a "collective" problem with people supposedly representing the Holy Pure God of Creation corrupting children.

So I say, let's deal with apologists pretending that clergy child sex-abuse is a small problem and that the news media or public prejudices are the main problem.

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Mr Longley's article is in the same tradition as an article by Briton Tom Utley in The Telegraph's November 30, 2002 internet version entitled "Paedophile obsession is killing trust in the Church". It was dusted off, given a new heading, and published weeks later in the Perth Catholic weekly The Record, as "Paedophile obsession can't kill trust in the Church," on January 2, 2003, p 4.

The article tried to say that the news media had an "obsession" but the true obsession is held by about 5 to 6 per cent (or more) of the clergy who want sex with minors. The matching obsession is that of the heads of religious orders and dioceses, who want to hide the criminals in their ranks.

The apologists want to imply that it hasn't cost tens of millions of dollars donated by people for worship and charitable causes, and that a big Church isn't getting deeper and deeper into sinful territory as it wriggles and twists trying to escape from the self-induced problem of continuing to employ people who are actually leading people away from Christianity!

My experience is that neither the Catholic nor Anglican Churches, under their present understanding of Christianity, will ever resolutely adopt and keep to the early Church's policy of expulsion of sex abusers. Jesus forbade harming the young (Matthew 18:6-7), and Paul wrote "Remove the wicked from among yourselves" in his first letter to the Corinthians, 5:9-13. The Didache forbade sex with boys, and the Council of Elvira in 309 A.D. ordered permanent exclusion for boy-sex. The penances during the Middle Ages included years on bread and water.

In response to requests made by petition three times, the latest being on Jan 22 2003, asking the major Churches to dismiss any Church minister or worker who sexually molested young people, the answers received up March 18 2003 were:

  • The Churches of Christ, dated March 4 2003, wrote that any form of child abuse would lead to immediate dismissal.
  • The Anglican Archbishop of Perth on February 11 wrote that Anglican bishops had no power to move paedophile priests from place to place, because there was a nomination board system. The diocese had declared this year the Year of the Child, and was holding educational and prayer initiatives. [The Catholics have also declared this the Year of the Child.] Across Australia, particularly in the other States, about 5 per cent of child abuse involved Church people, and 95 per cent took place in the family.
  • After mail to other people noted the lack of decision by the Catholic Church, its Perth leader wrote on March 5 that he agreed with the call of the petitioners to dismiss ministers and Church workers who had abused children, and that was the policy.
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Although remembering the Anglican scandals of, for example, Queensland (Dr Hollingworth, etc.) and New South Wales, the evidence so far is that the heaviest burden is borne by Catholic children.

In February 2002, only weeks after the Boston Church sex crisis hit world headlines, at Australind, a tiny Western Australian hamlet, a Catholic priest slid naked on an oily floor with five children under 13, and took films and photocopies of them sitting naked on a photocopier. He was in court within days (The West Australian, "Priest in sex case hit in court," Tuesday February 26 2002, p 3). He admitted the offence at another court hearing early this year (The West Australian, "Priest admits abuse," and "Our trust was betrayed: mother," by Eloise Dortch, Wed Jan 22 2003 p 3).

In the United States the Catholic Church has a serious, still ongoing endemic scandal of sleazy behaviour - two US boy-sex priests were caught over the border in Canada mid-2002, and a girl-sex priest was caught December 18 2002.

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About the Author

John Massam is a campaigner for the Just World Campaign.

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Perpetrators' List of the Australian
Poynter Institute Clergy Abuse Tracker
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