Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Servants Of The Paraclete; Part 1: SCANDALS IN THE CHURCH: THE TREATMENT PROGRAM; Abusive Priests Are Varied, but Treatable, Center Found

They came to a peaceful retreat in the mountains of New Mexico, bearing emotional troubles and sexual secrets.

Some had sinned with women; some, with men. Others were depressed or angry or anxious. One monk came for treatment of a foot fetish that drove him to steal socks. A priest from Africa arrived after it was discovered that he had several wives and many children.

But hundreds of the clergymen were sent to the treatment program in Jemez Springs because they had molested minors.

The public debate over the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse by its clergy members has focused on men like John J. Geoghan of Boston, calculating predators who appear beyond the reach of treatment.

But the history of the program at Jemez Springs, which in its 19 years of operation treated more than 500 priests and monks for sexual problems, suggests a more complex view.

In interviews, psychologists and psychiatrists who worked there said few of the clergymen fitted the image often presented in the news media.

For one thing, they said, the vast majority were not pedophiles: most had molested adolescents, not young children. In most cases, the clergymen’s transgressions were driven by confusion, fear, immaturity or impulse, not by cold calculation, the therapists said. Some of the clergymen had themselves been abused as adolescents. Many seemed to know little about human sexuality, and most initially tried to deny or rationalize their experiences, insisting that they had done nothing wrong or that their victims had benefited.

In some cases, said Dr. Robert Goodkind, a psychologist who worked at Jemez Springs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the priests seemed oblivious that the boys they were abusing were minors. In psychotherapy, he said, they would talk as if they themselves were junior high school students, describing how they ”fell in love” or how they felt ”burned” when the boys did not return their affections.

”There was just a real absence of the perspective that this is a 30-year-old man talking about 15-year-old boy,” Dr. Goodkind said.

And while some clergymen — no one knows exactly how many — abused minors again after leaving the program, the therapists said, follow-ups indicated that many more did not. Rather, the men altered their behavior and rebuilt lives either inside the church or out.

The program at Jemez Springs, run by a small Roman Catholic congregation known as the Servants of the Paraclete, represented one of the the church’s earliest, most innovative and ultimately most controversial efforts to deal with sexual abuse among its clergy.

It was started in 1976 by two Paraclete priests, who sought to bring psychotherapy, education in human sexuality, medication and other modern tools to bear on sexual issues in the priesthood. By directly addressing sexuality, the program laid down a path later followed by other treatment centers for priests, like the St. Luke Institute in Maryland and the Institute of Living in Hartford. Experts at those centers said their experience of working with sexual abusers closely paralleled that of the staff at Jemez Springs.

By the mid-1980’s, when the case of a Louisiana priest, the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, brought the problem to public view, the Paracletes had already treated hundreds of clergymen who had molested minors, said Dr. Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatric consultant to the program from 1976 to 1995.

But the church ended the treatment effort in 1995, when the Paracletes became mired in lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests who had been at Jemez Springs in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, before any systematic treatment program existed there. In those earlier days, priests’ sexual problems were addressed primarily through prayer, and some clergymen molested minors while visiting parishes to say Mass. The site, still owned by the Paracletes, now serves as a retreat center and retirement home for clergymen.

The abusers who came to Jemez Springs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the former staff members said, were highly educated and socially skilled and they had more in common with university professors and social workers than incarcerated sex offenders. Few showed sociopathic tendencies, the staff members said, and the extent of their misconduct and the motivations underlying their actions varied greatly.

Still, the therapists said, every priest and monk who came to the program struggled with the challenges posed by their vows of chastity and celibacy.

Dr. Feierman said that in many cases, the clergymen lived double lives, on the one hand repressing ”sinful” thoughts and on the other, acting out sexually.

”They thought they were sinning if they entertained an impure thought,” he said, ”but at the same time they were having sex with boys.”

Priests and monks who came to Jemez Springs for treatment of depression or other emotional ills often found that their distress covered over conflicts about sexuality, Dr. Goodkind said.

”A lot of times people had been dealing with a secret inside them that they thought was quite horrible, and they had been keeping this secret for 10, 15 or 25 years,” the psychologist said. ”And after a while they just got terribly depressed and were not functional any more.”

But for all the sexual problems they saw, the therapists said they only rarely encountered pedophilia, an exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.

Dr. Sarah Brennan, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, said that she treated hundreds of priests and monks in the 10 years she worked at Jemez Springs but that only one was a pedophile. Dr. Feierman, who studied 238 clergymen who were treated for sexual problems at Jemez Springs from 1982 to 1991, said that only a handful had molested young children or teenage girls; more than half, he said, had abused boys 12 to 17. Though his study was accepted in 1991 for publication in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a scientific journal, it never appeared in print. The new director of the treatment program, the Rev. Peter Lechner, asked him to withdraw the manuscript, Dr. Feierman said.

He added that he now kept the paper in a safe deposit box and did not have permission from Father Lechner to discuss the study’s findings in more detail. Reached in St. Louis, where he is now the Paraclete congregation’s leader, Father Lechner confirmed that he had not wanted the report published but said it was because the study was based on the clergymen’s confidential records.

The age of the priests’ victims corresponds to the findings of other studies and to the observations of experts who have treated priests in other settings. It is significant, scientists said, because adults who become sexually involved with adolescents are considered more amenable to treatment than pedophiles. ”There’s a lot better prognosis,” said Dr. Eli Coleman, director of the program in human sexuality University of Minnesota’s Center for Sexual Health. ”It’s much easier to help someone who is attracted to postpubescent children to adapt to attractions to adults.”

Dr. Feirman said that in his view, many of the clergymen who abused older children were fixated on teenagers and were not attracted to adults, male or female. Other former staff members said that the priests they worked with were immature and confused about their sexuality, and their problem was bad judgment and a lack of impulse control rather than sexual fixation. Some priests were trying to ignore or suppress their attraction to adult men and ended up in furtive relationships with teenage boys.

Those relationships often began as fatherly bonds with altar boys or other adolescents who came to the rectory. In some cases, the boys had lost their fathers, and their mothers encouraged them to spend time with the priests and to regard them as role models.

Very few abusive clergymen, Dr. Feierman said, ”just had sexual relationships with the kids.”

”They would pick kids that were needy and needed things both emotionally and financially,” he said. ”They would take them on vacations, buy them clothes, buy them bicycles.”

But in a typical progression, the relationships moved gradually into touching and groping, and in some cases sexual penetration.

Dr. Fred S. Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, said complex relationships were typical between the victims of sexual abuse and their abusers.

”This is not the fox in the chicken coop,” Dr. Berlin said. ”These are often situations in which the adult has genuine affection for the child, and sadly, because they begin to feel tempted in a way that most of us don’t, they give in to temptation.”

Dr. Leslie Lothstein, the director of psychology at the Institute of Living in Hartford, confirmed that, like the men treated at Jemez Springs, most of the priests who came to Hartford after sexually abusing minors had molested older boys.

But Dr. Lothstein said that although some of the men were gay, many others were not. Some were older priests, he said, who, having entered seminary as teenagers, ”were sexually undernourished, didn’t date and never really defined their sexuality.”

Having sex with boys, he said, seemed safer to those priests than having sex with women. Other men were replaying their experience as the victims of abuse by abusing others.

”They’re a very heterogenous group,” Dr. Lothstein said.

It was the realization that clergymen often had difficulty sorting out sexual issues that led two young priests, the Rev. Michael Foley and the Rev. William Perri, to found the Paracletes’ treatment program in 1976.

”We tried to create a forum, both in the spiritual and psychological realm, not where they were acting out the sexuality but where they were talking about it,” Father Foley said.

The priests borrowed the techniques being used by sexual disorder clinics in secular settings, including focused psychotherapy, education in human sexuality, relapse prevention and, for some men, the drug Depo Provera, which reduces sexual drive.

Priests who had molested minors, Dr. Goodkind said, were sent back with the stipulation that they not be returned to unsupervised ministry with minors. They were told to remain in therapy, and follow-up visits were made by the program’s staff.

But ultimately, the decision about what happened to the men after they left Jemez Springs was made by bishops and religious superiors.

No one can say with certainty how many of the men at Jemez Springs committed offenses after leaving the program. Dr. Feierman said he knew of only 2 men who were later arrested for sexual abuse and perhaps 5 to 10 more who had been caught in suspicious circumstances. For example, he said, one priest was later seen sitting in a hot tub in his apartment complex with two teenage boys.

Father Lechner, who became director of the treatment program in 1989, said he conducted an informal study in 1992 of 89 men treated at Jemez Springs. Only one had relapsed, he said.

Still, by the early 1990’s, the number of clergymen arriving at Jemez Springs had begun to dwindle, as lawsuits over priests who had sexually abused minors made headlines in New Mexico and other states.

”The whole program became associated with ‘priest pedophiles,’ ” Father Lechner said. ”We felt that was unfair to the men who were coming there to deal with other issues like depression or anxiety.”

For his part, Father Foley, who founded the program, said he still believed in its mission.

”I believe that a lot can be resolved and healed,” he said.

Still, he worries.

”I run through the papers before I go to work in the morning,” Father Foley said, ”and hope and pray that I’m not going to recognize a name.”

Reference

Gerard Majella Society Sexual Abuse Case

As far back as the late 60s-mid 70s, I had heard rumours about the Gerard Majella Society from members of other religioys orders (themselves not beyond reproach!). The nembers were often referred to as having odd practises, in an order that was, in no uncertain terms, set up and run in an odd, almost surreptitious way. There was talk of odd “dress-up” sessions occuring in the monastery, and of a certain “sleaziness” surrounding the priests who ran things. With all the recent controversy surrounding goings-on in the Vatican, and with the supposed return of Cardinal George Pell – the third highest ranking official in the Vatican – to Australia to face historic sexual abuse charges, it came to my mind to find out what had happened to the Gerard Majella Society. It is, with a shudder, frightening to me that I have been surrounded by sexual abuse amongst Catholic brothers and other clergy for most of my life…though not directly affected personally. My experiences at Marist Brother’s St Gregory’s Agricultural College whereby my Dorm 2 dorm madter – Brother Brian – was mysteriously “transferred” after molesting boys in the dorm; the Rev Father Peter Cominsole – who baptised me at St Gregs – who was Parish Priest at St John the Evangelist church in Campbelltown, and the college chaplain, was jailed on sexual abuse charges; recent research into St Greg’s shows a headmaster charged with sexual abuse, and several others charged bith there, and at St Joseph’s, Hunters Hill; my interaction with the St John of the Cross brothers whilst having a brief stint in a monastery myself, and the outcry when it was revealed that they were sexually abusing mentally incapacitated patients in yheir care. It goes on and on! The Gerard Majella Society has now been disbanded, and the priests in charge sentenced to – in my opinion – very short prison sentences for the amount of distress, and psychological damage that they caused those who suffered the abuse. This is the story of the Gerard Majella Society as exposed by researchers at Broken Rites.


By a Broken Rites researcher

In the 1990s, Broken Rites helped to reveal sexual abuse of young people by Catholic priests in the St Gerard Majella religious order in western Sydney. Two decades later, on 15 September 2016, this religious order was mentioned at a public hearing of Australia’s national child-abuse Royal Commission. This Broken Rites article gives the background of the St Gerard Majella Society.

In the late 1990s the Sydney District Court jailed three priests who comprised the entire leadership of the St Gerard Majella Society. This society, operating in the Parramatta diocese in western Sydney, consisted of a core of three priests who recruited and “trained” a pool of young Brothers. The three priests were convicted for committing sexual offences against the trainees.
FATHER John Sweeney, then 59, head of the order, was sentenced on 18 July 1997 to 2 years 3 months jail (18 months minimum) after a jury found him guilty of three counts of indecent assault against a 19-year-old trainee Brother. Sweeney still faced further charges involving five other young males.
 FATHER Peter Harold Pritchard, then aged 53 (born on 21 May 1944), second-in-charge in the order (and known as Father “Joseph” Pritchard), was sentenced on 29 October 1997 to six years’ jail (four years minimum). Pritchard pleaded guilty to charges of buggery, intent to commit buggery; and indecent assault involving seven trainee Brothers and another young male, all aged 16 to 21, over a 19-year period.

 FATHER Stephen Joseph Robinson, the order’s novice master and “spiritual” director, was sentenced on 27 March 1998 to a minimum of 18 months’ jail after two juries convicted him for acts of indecency on two trainees. At the time of his sentencing, he was aged 51 (born in 1946).

The victims in these court cases were not the only victims, just those located by police. The sexual abuse continued for decades, right under the noses of the diocesan authorities, but the church ignored it and the victims had nowhere to go.

In sentencing, the judges said the three priests took advantage of the trainees’ naively and their vow of obedience. The trainees lived an “almost a child-like existence” in the order.
Pritchard, for example, silenced his victims by saying “nobody would believe” that Catholic priests would commit such acts.
The background
The St Gerard Majella Society was formed by Sweeney in 1958 to conduct religious classes for Catholic students in state high schools. It had the blessing of Cardinal Gilroy, the then archbishop of Sydney. Sweeney recruited like-minded men as Brothers, some being upgraded to priests. Members wore conservative neck-to-ankle clerical cassocks. It is believed that, in the 1990s, the St Gerard Majella Society comprised about eight priests, including the three who were convicted.

The Society administered the Catholic parish church at Greystanes (near Parramatta), of which Sweeney was the parish priest, and also the nearby Newman Catholic High School, where Pritchard was the principal.
The order had several monasteries where it conducted camps and retreats for secondary school students and for young military personnel, such as naval apprentices. It trained novice Brothers (some beginning as young as 16), who were bound by rules of obedience to the priests in charge.
Parents, students and parishioners complained about the St Gerard priests but nothing was done. However, the cover-up began to crumble in April 1993 when Father Pritchard pleaded guilty in Liverpool Court to indecent assault of a young naval apprentice who was in his care. Pritchard was placed on a $2,000 good behaviour bond. Although it did not attract media attention, this case prompted other St Gerard victims to think about redress.
In December 1993, after Broken Rites was mentioned in the media, Broken Rites began receiving calls from several ex-Brothers. Each caller described the St Gerard Society’s systematic sexual abuse. The callers alleged that this order was virtually a paedophile organisation, running a male harem.
The ex-Brothers also gave Broken Rites several confidential memoranda written by Bishop Bede Heather, of the Parramatta diocese, indicating that the church was going into damage control. One memo, in May 1993, said Heather had asked two Sydney priests, Rodger Austin and Peter Blayney, to gather written statements from St Gerard Society victims about the abuse. After this process, a second memo in September 1993 said Heather was suspending Sweeney, Pritchard and Robinson from priestly duties.
However, the laity were not told the truth. For example, the Greystanes parish newsletter merely announced that Father Sweeney “has elected to resign” as parish priest to have “a necessary time of renewal”.
Broken Rites advised the ex-Brothers to give statements to the NSW Police child protection unit, which they did during 1994. Detectives then located further victims.
The chief burglar
While this police investigation was proceeding, another cover-up in the Parramatta diocese became exposed. Broken Rites learned that one of the diocese’s most prominent priests, Father Richard Cattell, then 54, pleaded guilty on 19 August 1994 to five counts of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old boy. The boy had gone to Cattell (as a parish priest) in 1973-6 after being molested by a teacher.

In 1991 Bishop Heather appointed Cattell as his vicar-general to administer the 48 parishes of the Parramatta diocese (including Greystanes, where the St Gerard Society had its headquarters).
Therefore, anyone who wanted to complain about sexual abuse in the St Gerard Brothers in the early 1990s would have gone through a vicar-general who was himself a paedophile.
To report sexual crimes to the paedophile vicar-general Cattell was like reporting burglaries to a burglar. How many sex-abuse complaints were received by Cattell? And where, are the files?
[This is why Broken Rites recommends that victims should first report a church-abuse offence to the police child-protection unit, not merely to a church official. The church official is a colleague of the offender and may himself be an offender.]
Police raid
Broken Rites alerted the media to attend Cattell’s sentencing on 9 December 1994, when he was jailed for two years. Heather later wrote a letter to Cattell’s parishioners, supporting Cattell.

“He [Cattell] continues to be our brother priest,” Heather wrote.
St Gerard Society victims informed Broken Rites that four days later, on 13 December 1994, detectives asked Heather to hand over documents (including the Austin/Blayney report) relating to the St Gerard sex-abuse complaints but Heather allegedly refused. The detectives therefore returned with search warrants for both Heather’s office and the Sydney Archdiocese offices and seized the missing documents, including many written complaints that had not been forwarded to the police
Three days later, on 16 December 1994, Heather quietly announced that he was disbanding the St Gerard Society. The church evidently hoped that there would be no organisation left for the police to investigate but Broken Rites tipped off the media, and therefore in late December 1994 the Sydney and Parramatta newspapers began revealing the St Gerard scandal. Broken Rites then received more calls from informants.
The church promptly began disposing of the St Gerard Society’s property, believed to be worth millions of dollars. This was a big windfall for the church coffers.
The disposal would make it difficult for victims to tackle the St Gerard Society for damages. Innocent Brothers who had spent their teens and perhaps their twenties in the St Gerard order now had no job and no qualifications for a new one.
On 19 December 1994, Heather wrote to his clergy about the Cattell and St Gerard matters. He gave Cattell’s prison address, with suggestions for those priests “intending to visit”. He also indicated his depressed mood about all the scandals, saying that “priestly ministry has suffered a severe setback in the eyes of many people.” (That is, it was unfortunate that the scandals had become public.)
Sweeney, Pritchard and Robinson were arrested in early 1995 and their court appearances spanned three years. A week before the sentencing of Sweeney, Bishop Heather suddenly took early retirement (this could be interpreted as an attempt by the church to continue its traditional cover-up).
Several priests from the St Gerard Majella religious order, who had not been charged by police for sexual offences, were absorbed into the Parramatta diocese or other dioceses. And in 1999, Newman College Greystanes (formerly administered by the St Gerard Majella Brothers) changed its name to St Paul’s Catholic College Greystanes.
Thus, the St Gerard Majella religious order is gone — but not forgotten.
This article, based on Broken Rites research, is the most comprehensive article available about the St Gerard Majella case. Broken Rites conferred with some journalists, who wrote articles in the following newspapers: Sydney Daily Telegraph 19-7-1997, 13-11-1997, Sydney Morning Herald 13-11-1997, 3-3-1998, 4-3-1998, 28-3-1998; The Australian, 23-12-1994, p13, Sydney Sun-Herald 16-11-1997, p56.
Postscript, February 2012
In early 2012, according to several websites, Stephen Robinson is still associated with certain religious groups in Sydney (these groups are not in communion with the Vatican). For example:

 A congregation known as the “Metropolitan Community Church Good Shepherd”, at Granville, in Sydney’s western suburbs, stated that one of its contact persons is “Stephen Robinson, BTh, MA, DipTG, DCH Dip. Reflexology, cert. massage.” (This western-suburbs group is not to be confused with another Metropolitan Community Church congregation, located in inner Sydney.)

 Stephen Robinson has also had some connection with a body called Ecumenical Catholic Ministries. The National Library of Australia has a publication, by “Stephen Robinson, born 1946”, entitled The New Jerusalem Liturgy, which was produced in association with Ecumenical Catholic Ministries.

Apart from church matters, Stephen Robinson is also pursuing other interests. A website in February 2012 referred to Stephen Robinson in Sydney who is “currently in private practice as a body therapist and personal growth consultant”. And another website in February 2012 referred to Stephen Robinson running courses at the “College of Complementary Medicine” in Sydney — and his qualifications are said to include a Bachelor of Theology degree and a Diploma in Remedial Massage.

Postscript, April 2012
Stephen Robinson has been mentioned on the website of St Bernadette’s Catholic parish, Lalor Park (in the Parramatta diocese, western Sydney).

The website has stated on its “Parish History” page:

“In 2006, the Parish celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the building and dedication of their second church. The celebrations started on Friday 15th September 2006 with a Jubilee Mass for St Bernadette’s Parish School …

“New Hymn to St Bernadette and a new music Mass setting, dedicated to St Bernadette were composed by Stephen Robinson for the 25th Anniversary…

“Fr Andrew Robinson [the parish priest at St Bernadette’s] celebrated his 60th Birthday with his twin brother Stephen. The parishioners presented Father with a gift at the 10.00am Sunday Mass. After Mass the community shared a cuppa and birthday cake outside the Church to celebrate…”
“In 2008, icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel were painted by Stephen Robinson for the Sanctuary of the Church.”
On 13 March 2011, the St Bernadette’s parish bulletin stated:
“Our thanks are due to many people who assisted in making our Jubilee celebrations last weekend a special time at St Bernadette’s.
“…The Parish Ministry – singers, musicians who worked so passionately to learn the program of Sacred music, under the musical direction of Stephen Robinson… Thank you Stephen for composing all the hymns and Mass in honour of the Immaculate Conception for our Jubilee Year…” 

Addendum

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/bishop-bede-heather-destroyed-documents-royal-commission-20160914-grgnxc.html
SEPTEMBER 15 2016

LICENSE ARTICLE

Bishop Bede Heather ‘destroyed’ documents: Royal Commission 

By Rachel Browne 
The former Catholic Bishop of Parramatta Bede Heather has told a royal commission he destroyed documents relating to potential legal action against a paedophile priest.

Bishop Heather told the public inquiry he destroyed documents because he was traumatised by a police search of his office as part of an earlier investigation into sexual abuse by clergy.

John Joseph Farrell (left) during a previous hearing. Photo: Barry Smith

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard Bishop Heather advised his lawyers Makinson & D’Apice of his actions in a 1996 letter.

“Following the police raid on our offices, shortly afterwards I took the precaution of destroying all papers of mine which could have been to the disadvantage of persons with whom I deal,” he wrote in the letter which was partly read out before the commission.

Bishop Bede Heather in 1996 Photo: Steven Siewe

“You’ve destroyed documents that might say something which could be adverse to an individual?,” commission chairman Peter McClellan asked.

“Yes,” Bishop Heather responded.

Justice McClellan: “That would include potential criminal offences?”
Bishop Heather: “It could, yes.”
The commission heard Bishop Heather destroyed material relating to a western Sydney priest who was first jailed for child sexual offences in 1994 even though he was aware there were potential further civil claims against the man.
Bishop Heather told the inquiry he became anxious about confidentiality following a police search of his office as part of a separate investigation into a local religious order, St Gerard Majella Society, which was part of the Parramatta Diocese.
“From that point onwards I became a bit cautious about what I kept on file,” he said.
“I was traumatised by the event . . . and suffered stress disorder as a result.”
Three brothers from the now defunct St Gerard Majella Society – Joseph Pritchard, John Sweeney and Stephen Robinson – were convicted of sexual offences, the commission heard.
Bishop Heather told the inquiry he did not report allegations about the brothers to the police when he first became aware of them.
“No I didn’t see that as my obligation,” he said. “I suppose I was principally concerned about the impact on the community, the church (and) the community of brothers.”
The fourth day of the hearing into how the Catholic Church responded to allegations about jailed paedophile priest John Joseph Farrell heard Bishop Heather accepted him into the Parramatta Diocese in 1990 because he wanted to “give him a fair go” despite knowing of child sexual abuse claims against him.
Bishop Heather told the commission he suspended Farrell in 1992 after learning he had behaved inappropriately with altar boys, checked to see if a school girl was wearing a bra and made a lewd comment to a teacher.
The commission heard Farrell returned to the Diocese of Armidale where he continued to work with children until at least 2000.
Former Bishop of Armidale, Luc Matthys, told the commission he did not believe people who had suffered abuse by clergy should get compensation from the Catholic Church.
The commission heard Bishop Matthys started the process of laicising Farrell on advice he posed an unacceptable risk to children.
Farrell was was sentenced to a minimum jail term of 18 years in May after being convicted of a string of child sex offences.
The hearing will resume on September 19.
Lifeline 13 11 14

Reference

Broken Rites Australia http://brokenrites.org.au/drupal/node/12

Further Reading

Barry M Coldrey: Religious life Without Integrity – The Sexual Abuse Crisis In the Catholic Church http://www.bishop-accountability.org/reports/2000_Coldrey_Integrity/integrity_23.htm

Child Sex Abuse In Australia Royal Commission http://www.tastessightssounds.com/2015/06/child-sexual-abuse-in-australia-royal.html

The Hidden Side of Sex Offences

As a kid who spent three years in a Catholic boarding school I was exposed to an underworld of dark sex offenses without realising what was going on around me. When I think back on it now, it was quite scary…

In 1967, due to some family problems – a book of stories on it’s own – and with moving the family home from Sylvania to Kogarah, it was decided that instead of sending me to James Cook High School, I would be taken out of the public school system, and sent to a private school. Mind you, being the era it was, I didn’t have a lot of say in this decision.

As a late applicant – and Protestant – to Marist Brothers St Gregory’s Agricultural College at Campbelltown, I had to wait for all the Catholic applications to be processed first, to see if there were any vacancies available. I was to eventually spend three years there, attaining my School Certificate un 1969. There are two events that occurred in my time there that are quire disturbing, and probably part of the current investigations into child sexual abuse.

Being a boarding school, we all spent our mornings and nights in large open dormitories – just called dorms. Brother Brian was the Dorm Master of Dorn 2, and had an enclosed bedroom just off the entry to the dorm. He was also the Instructor for the school swimming team. As with most school swimming teams, we had our own swimming trunks – burgundy and blue – especially made. With the arrival of the swim trunks, along came their time for distribution. It took me a while to work out what was going on. As I lay in bed after lights-out, there would be a stream of kids on the swimming team individually visiting Brother Brian in his room at night. Evidently, Brother was giving the boys specialised fitting of their swim trunks, getting them to strip off, and try the trunks on to “ensure the correct fit”. Shortly after this event, Brother Brian mysteriously disappeared…transferred to somewhere or other i had just, unwittingly, observed my first instance if sexual abuse. In keeping with the era, no explanation was given, and the incident was never discussed.

Being a Protestant – Congregational – in a Catholic environment, and voluntarily not exempting myself from Mass , rosary, Station of the Cross. Retreats etc, eventually the religion rubbed off on me. Being raised in the simplicity of Protestantism, I found the rituals, devotions and customs of the Catholic church overwhelming, and in 1969 I converted.

Reverend Father Peter Comensoli was the Parish Priest of St John the Evangelist Church in Campbelltown, and St Gregory’s College Chaplain. As such, he baptized me in the college chapel, and in fact bestowed on me his Christian name Peter as my baptismal name, and later that year I was confirmed in the Parish Church in Campbelltown. Yet another name – Francis – to add to my collection. Father Comensoli spent a lot of time at the college, and was very friendly to all the boys.

So you can only imagine my total lack of surprise, when watching the hews many, many tears later, and seeing Father Cominsole being arrested for molesting his altar boys.

Both incidents made me realise just how close I could have been to being a victim of sexual abuse myself!

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2013/s3810321.htm
http://www.brokenrites.org.au/drupal/node/194
http://www.christianchat.com.au/christian-chat-articles/1996/4/16/police-were-slow-to-act-on-clergy-sex-assault-claim/

Please – if you have been a victim of sexual abuse, or know of instances of sexual abuse please report it to authorities.

Tim Alderman (C) 2014