07 June 2013


George Pell and Denis Hart appeared at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Their behaviour was appalling, their demeanour and utterances even worse, and their patronising, condescending - and ultimately evasive responses showed that they cared nothing about the victims and everything about the reputation of their religious organisations.

Presumably they will also put in appearances at the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, and, as they did in Victoria, they will blame others fairly and squarely for the responsibility of their organisations for the appalling and illegal behaviour which was the culture - and presumably still is - of the people they are supposed to serve and protect and teach about humanity and respect.

What a tragic joke!

Chrissie and Antony Foster and their families have suffered more than most people suffer in a lifetime of the horrors inflicted on them and their families by the organisations in which they put so much faith - if that is an appropriate word under the circumstances.

Here is Chrissie's latest article on the issues which appeared in The Age newspaper on 6 June 2013:

Why these two men are still part of the problem

June 6, 2013
By Chrissie Foster

High-ranking clerics must answer for the smokescreen they created in protecting criminal priests.

Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Joe Armao

On the last two Mondays in May, we heard the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, and Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, give testimony to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse in religious organisations. They spoke on the sexual abuse of hundreds of "innocent people" – known to the rest of us as children – committed by priests and brothers in Victoria.

Discussion, debate and analysis have followed their evidence. I must add to this argument. I bear personal witness to experiences with both Archbishop Hart and Cardinal Pell which contradict their limited vision of events. Space limits the attack I would like to launch, so I will refer to just two instances, one relating to the cardinal and one the archbishop.

I first locked horns with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in 1996, and the protection of children has meant I have not stopped challenging them since. In March 1996 I discovered that my eldest daughter Emma had been sexually assaulted by our parish priest, Father Kevin O'Donnell, who at that time was in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting children from 1946 to 1977. Emma's disclosures and, later, those of our second daughter, Katie, took his offending to his retirement in 1992 – amounting to 50 years of raping, sodomising and sexually assaulting, most likely, hundreds of children.

Archbishop Denis Hart. Photo: Joe Armao

In Cardinal Pell's written submission to the parliamentary inquiry, he stated: "Although he [Father O'Donnell] brought shame upon the priesthood and the church, he was buried with other priests in Melbourne. Had he been laicised before he died, this would not have occurred." Seemingly the cardinal is lamenting that a career child rapist was not laicised before he died so, sadly, a criminal priest is "buried with other priests". This sounds a noble and reasonable lament for a pious and forthright cardinal.

Yet on February 18, 1997, I and 44 other distressed parents met with then Archbishop George Pell in Oakleigh. At this meeting we asked the archbishop that the then living and imprisoned Father O'Donnell be laicised. Pell smiled condescendingly and said "we can't do that" – just as the canon lawyer had said and done to our same request only months earlier.

This time we were talking to the boss, so we persisted. We told Archbishop Pell that his own canon law said it was possible. The archbishop replied that canon law was hard to understand, hard to interpret. We produced a copy of the 1152-page book of canon law and read aloud law number 1395.2 – it clearly stated a priest could be laicised for the sexual abuse of a minor. Taken aback, with the evidence of the book and its clear language, the archbishop back-pedalled, saying he would have to get back to us about it. He never did. Later in the meeting, we again asked that O'Donnell be laicised; again it was denied.

So despite his 2013 public show of disappointment that Father O'Donnell was not laicised before he died, it was in fact George Pell, as Archbishop of Melbourne who, 16 years earlier, refused to laicise O'Donnell. Pell as archbishop had from July 1996 until O'Donnell's death in March 1997 to laicise the imprisoned criminal "before he died". But even when asked to laicise O'Donnell he refused, claiming ignorance of laicisation protocols when in fact he had served, for nine years at that time, on the body that oversaw the laicisation of priests in Rome – the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. We did not discover this fact until 12 years later, in 2009.

While Archbishop Pell denied our request in 1997, he now appears to lament the fact that Father O'Donnell was not laicised before he died – as though he had nothing to do with it. Cardinal Pell should face the truth: that in 1997 he was happy for O'Donnell to be "buried with other priests in Melbourne"; he ensured it happened. Yet Cardinal Pell now presents to Australia a misleading impression of regret that O'Donnell is buried with other priests, when he played a major role in bringing that reality about. Cardinal Pell's failure to act meant one of Australia's worst child rapists kept his privileged title of Father and was buried honourably with other priests. In Archbishop Hart's oral evidence to the parliamentary inquiry, he stated that when victims decided not to accept the church offer of compensation, it had "walked with them" through the court system to "more generous payouts". Later, he stated that "no victim had made it to court". So how could the church have possibly walked with victims through the court system when it has never happened? You can't have it both ways.

In addition to this, we personally sued Archbishop Hart in our attempt to reach court, him being the current leader of the Melbourne Archdiocese. Hart never contacted us. He did however send us a message. Instead of acting out his words of apparent compassion in "walking with victims", he set his lawyers on us for years, engaging, directing and paying them to strenuously defend the church to the point of claiming Father O'Donnell's innocence – even after their independent commissioner, Peter O'Callaghan, had found sexual abuse had taken place with both Emma and Katie. Astoundingly, their attack negated Archbishop Pell's earlier written apology to Emma.

Also Archbishop Hart, if you and the church hierarchy are happy to "walk with victims" to achieve "higher payouts" as you say, why not simply remove the cap you hold in place to control and minimise payouts? Your heart, like that of others in the hierarchy, is bent on preserving church wealth instead of restoring broken lives. None of your actions, in any way, resemble your claim of "walking with victims". It is time for honesty, Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Hart, not smokescreen words for personal cover-ups. Your words are manifestly misleading to all who hear them, and therefore you remain part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Chrissie Foster is the co-author of Hell on the Way to Heaven.

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm