Friday, November 12, 2010

Australian abuse
The Catholic Church must give all victims a Christian response Chrissie Foster From: Herald Sun November 13, 2010 1:00AM Increase Text SizeDecrease Text SizePrintEmail Share
Add to DiggAdd to del.icio.usAdd to FacebookAdd to KwoffAdd to MyspaceAdd to NewsvineWhat are these?THE apologetic words by Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart to victims of sexual assault at the hands of Catholic priests in Wednesday's Herald Sun are far from the reality of the appalling, cold-hearted response our family received.
We quickly learned there was a cruel face to the Catholic Church -- one I had neither seen nor even suspected; one that cared nothing about the sexual assault and immense suffering of our 14-year-old Emma, or any other victim.

Our story is not rare, it is just rarely told -- we know of many more suffering victims and families.

The hierarchy's reaction to the rape of our children caused us to fight for a proper response, a just response, a Christian response. It was, unfortunately, nowhere to be found.

Parental love told us we had no choice but to confront the might of an angry Catholic Church.

Archbishop Hart said: "I would like to repeat the sincere and unreserved apology I first offered to the Foster family in July 2008."
I assume, Archbishop, you made this apology through the media, because even though you have our address, my husban Anthony and I have never received a personal, verbal or written apology from you or George Pell.

The last time I heard from you was in 1997 when, as vicar-general of Melbourne, you returned Emma's unpaid psychiatric hospital bills to me, telling me to take them to my private heath insurer and claim them, and that the church would pay the gap if there was one.

You take credit for great church generosity to us and other victims, yet then and now it has been Medicare and the taxpayer who carries the burden of covering the medical cost of church-related abuse -- except for the once I forced your hand and the church paid without receiving a refund.

Why does the Australian taxpayer pay for the sins of your "fathers"?

You make much of the support provided for Emma. However, the truth is that the church offered Emma a pitiful amount for the suffering she had endured. We decided to challenge the church's value of her life and her suffering, and took difficult legal action against the church.

In November 2005, after almost 10 years of legal battles that were incredibly draining on our family, and during which the church denied the assaults had taken place, we reluctantly settled out of court. You then withdrew all future support for Emma, even refusing to pay for some support before the settlement.

In October 2009, I rang the Oakleigh presbytery and asked to view the shower room where Emma had been raped by Fr Kevin O'Donnell.

I was told the room was now being used by another priest who held the only key, and that I would have to ring and ask him to view it.

I did; I told him who I was and why I wanted to see the room, and that I was writing a book about what had happened to my daughter.

The priest asked me to give him five days to clean the room up.

On the appointed day my husband, my co-author and I met the priest.

He unlocked the school gate. He took us into the school hall, where several classes of children were being taught.

We were not challenged by any of the teachers as we were accompanied by the priest. He unlocked the door and took us into his room, the very room where O'Donnell had raped Emma. There were dozens of vulnerable children only metres away.

As we left, the priest shared a story with us. He told us that in a previous parish's primary school, a little girl had disclosed that her teacher had sexually assaulted her. "But he was a happily married man with three children of his own. What do you do? What do you do?" said the priest, flapping his arms up and down in dismay and hopelessness.

So what are people to believe?

Certainly not the nicely written public relations spin that you, Archbishop Hart, read out to assure everyone that their children are now safe in the church.

The sad fact is that it falls a long way short, treats victims with contempt and compounds their suffering. These are words you may choose not to believe but they are a truth that needs attention.

If you have nothing to hide and truly want to help victims, you must:

OPEN all archdiocese files to the police and request the Government conduct a full and open inquiry into all the facts of abuse by clergy in the Melbourne archdiocese.

REMOVE the $75,000 cap on your ex-gratia payments to victims and have all past ex-gratia payments reviewed without any limit.

STOP hiding the church from legal processes and offer a litigation model to accept civil claims.

REMOVE from the clergy any priest who has sexually assaulted children.

INTRODUCE procedures to protect children against sexual abuse.

The time has come to put the victims before your church and its assets.

* Chrissie Foster is the author of Hell on the Way to Heaven

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