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The Catholic Church and child sexual abuse

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During the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, numerous shocking revelations will emerge. Father Kevin Lee reflects on what he has seen from inside the Catholic Church.

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Father Kevin Lee. (Image screenshot ABC Lateline)

YOU WOULD HAVE to be living on another planet to be unaware that sexual abuse has been perpetrated with monotonous regularity by representatives of the Catholic Church. It has been happening for centuries, in every country of the world.


What most people don’t understand is how it happens and why it continues to be concealed by the authorities within the Church and secular regulators. The people who have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in their care — our children.


Nobody wants to consider the proposition that the Catholic Church has established the very educational and residential institutions that have allowed the abuse to happen. They have staffed these institutions with members who are likely to be abusers.


Although most would recognise that forcing its members to refrain from sexual intimacy would have to be one of the most extreme forms of cruelty, nobody wants to accept the fact that compulsory celibacy is contributing to the sexual abuse of children.


There have been many opposing views about the sexual abuse crisis and those who are most likely to be perpetrators of it. I have attempted to clear the confusion by telling my story.


In my twenty years as a committed cleric of the Catholic Church I met several priests who admitted to having sexually abused children and many others who confessed their inability to control their raging sexuality — which they had been forced to repress.


The latter group acted out with sexually mature consenting adults. As a naïve young priest I believed in their sincere repentance over their failures — for a while.


As the frequency of those confessions multiplied, I began to doubt their sincerity.


I decided to mention my suspicions to Bishops and Vicar Generals (second in command) in dioceses where these priestly pretenders worked. I was told I was misinformed or needed to produce material proof of my allegations.




abuse protests
Numerous high profile sexual abuse cases have damaged the Catholic Church's reputation. (Image courtesy theage.com.au)

One such allegation was the discovery of a suspicious video among my parish priest’s collection. Its cover was what caught my attention. It was a page from a Kmart clothing catalogue that advertised "Boys 9-16" with a photograph of two lads in summer pyjamas. When I played the video it appeared to be a scratchy home movie depicting oiled up young boys in some type of body building competition. They paraded their wares to the sound of disco music and wolf whistles. There was no commentary to the amateur video apart from muffled comments, presumably made by the person who was recording the event. I reported my discovery to the authorities who dismissed it as "witch hunting".


Apparently this man’s fascination with watching near naked boys in his spare time was not enough evidence of a flawed sexuality for the hierarchy. They wanted more proof.


What I found most concerning was that the authorities who were supervising priests like him were unwilling to intervene. This applied even when they became aware of the potential for these men to "act out" on their sexual fantasies which most often involved children.


I wrote about my dilemma as a Catholic priest for twenty years. I called it Unholy Silence – Covering Up The Sins of The Fathers. I did this because what became very clear to me was that the Church was not interested in preventing abuse, only concealing an awareness of the extent of the sexual perversion of priests.


In order to fully disclose my story I had to name names. Various publishers who were initially interested in publishing my diarised accounts of priestly infidelity later had reservations. Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan both said:



"If we don’t use real names you lose credibility but if we do, we get sued."

The perceived legal risks outweighed the financial feasibility for them and no one wanted to publish.


In the end I chose to self-publish on the internet.


Recently, I was advised that the Magistrate who ordered the suppression order of F’s name has been pressured by his lawyers to take action against me for naming him in my eBook.


I now prepare to take the consequence of that decision on the chin.


However, I do feel that I have done the right thing as the ominous adage attributed to Edmund Burke echoes in my conscience:



"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

But why must I be made to feel guilty because I outed paedophiles and sexual deviates hiding behind clerical garb? Why doesn’t the legal profession understand that the priority of protecting children is of higher significance than protecting an individual’s reputation?


Ultimately who is responsible?



As with all organisational incompetence the blame must be laid with the head. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church: the recently resigned, eighty-five year old Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, must surely take responsibility for the atrocious indifference that has been shown by his Church to the increasing allegations of institutional negligence in dealing with instances of sexual abuse?


It had been widely commented that Pope Benedict XVI was not competent to lead such a powerful institution and his views were at variance with most of his own academics that have assessed his performance. I agree with the claim that the concealment of sexual abuse was never more prevalent than under his pontificate.

The main reason I felt compelled to publish the accounts of the shocking stories of abuse was out of absolute frustration of constantly hearing the parents, partners or siblings of abuse victims relate the sad experiences of these previously "good Catholic children" having committed suicide or indulged in mind-numbing drug addictions as a result of having been sexually assaulted by a member of the clergy.


Indoctrinated by everything the Church officially told me, I used to routinely dismiss these complaints as "one offs" or rare occurrences. I defended the Church by maintaining that all the good we did far outweighed the infrequent harm done by these very few bad apples.


Over time, these rare occasions seem to multiply exponentially.


I was hearing about priestly sexual indiscretions with alarming frequency while church officials continued insisting on their rarity.


Urged by the Vatican to burnish its image in Australia in the light of frequent accusations, the Bishops have chosen not justice for the victims, but harm minimisation.


They are not concerned about preventing the damage to the lives of Church members but only further damage to its already tarnished reputation. They created committees whose only measurable outcomes have been carefully worded "church speak" documents outlining what will be done in the future to prevent opportunities for abuse from occurring.




pope francis
Many are wondering if Pope Francis can clean up the mess left by his predecessor. (Image courtesy guardian.co.uk)

Impotent committees generated little read manuals and processes such as the ‘Melbourne Response’, ‘Towards Healing’ and ‘Integrity in Ministry’. These were the result of years of academic workshops and meetings aimed at heading off the allegations that Bishops did nothing to prevent paedophiles from continuing to hide behind the righteousness of their priesthood.


Year after year I would follow the Church protocols for dealing with complaints of sexual abuse and report them to the hierarchy only to find that time after time these allegations were denied as ever having been passed on to the hierarchy or dismissed without proper investigation — brushed under the carpet.


The continual stream of bumf has not resulted in the discovery of one single offender which adds to the suspicion that the Catholic Church is not really intent on ending the abuse.


Whenever I accused the Church officials that they have done little practically to stem the flow of abusers entering ministry they directed me to those documents.


"We are doing something!" one Bishop protested, "We are producing documents telling priests what they should not do!"


Any number of laws will not stop crimes from being committed. In the same way, any number of documents telling priests what they shouldn’t do does nothing to stop them doing it. Only with greater scrutiny and the demands of accountability will anyone ever know what goes on in the secret lives of priests.


Eventually my own failure to keep my vow of celibacy reinforced for me what everyone else had always told me — celibacy is impossible.


Despite this awareness, I kept up the pretense that it was because by that stage I was completely entrenched in the institution and enjoying the privileges that my priestly position offered.


Paradoxically the final straw came for me one day after confessing my own failure to live celibately.


I went to confession in an area I would not be known, to an old Italian Padre with a reputation for sanctity. After identifying myself as a priest, I admitted that I had been passionately kissing my girlfriend. She was later to become my wife.


"What?" he yelled through the paneled wall.




"You are a priest! You are not allowed to have a girlfriend!"


I was immediately aware that his loud shouting could be heard by the other penitents waiting outside. "It’s priests like you who bring the Church into such disrepute!" he spat venomously at me.



"Yes Father, I know that," I whispered in an attempt to quieten his shouting. "I’m sorry Father," I said stumbling for a justifying response. He continued to tell me how evil I was and accused me of having allowed the devil into my soul by engaging in physical contact with this woman.


"Yes I am so sorry Father," I began to get frustrated, "I know! That’s why I am here in confession - telling God I am sorry!"


After berating me noisily for several more minutes for the scandalous life I was living, the elderly Italian priest suddenly changed his tone. "All right then, make a good act of contrition and pray the Rosary for your penance."


"Yes Father," I meekly replied and proceeded to pray the penitent’s prayer as he recited the words of absolution in Latin.


When I had finished my act of contrition I stood to leave but the priest held out his hand to stop me. He asked, "Have you got time to hear my confession?" I was surprised by the strangely unorthodox request but nodded a compliant "Yes Father".


He passed me the purple priest’s stole he was wearing over his shoulders and he said in a much more subdued voice:



"I don’t think I ever confessed this and it is bothering me."

He continued:



"There is a family I am very close to in this parish. In fact, I have married the parents and baptised all the kids. I come to their house regularly for meals you know? Once I was watching TV with the family. I had the youngest daughter sitting on my lap. She couldn’t be more than seven years old."

He then told me he had digitally penetrated the little girl while the other family members were obliviously watching TV.


The image of what he had verbalised caused me to gag with nausea as I spoke the words of absolution. It was the most horrible confession I have heard. People to whom I have confided that story have asked in disbelief, "Why did you forgive him?" I have to admit that it was with great reluctance that I did. But I had to…because he knew my sins.




unholy silence
Father Kevin Lee wrote his book out of sheer frustration with what he saw. (Image courtesy fatherkevinlee.blogspot.com)

Regrettably that was not the first or only time priests have confessed to me their deviances from what most would expect of a person occupying the esteemed and privileged position of Catholic priest. This book is filled with further examples which will horrify you as much as they have traumatised me.


It has been a constant source of embarrassment for me, every time I open the newspaper to read of yet another case of priestly sexual abuse. Whenever I would hear a news bulletin begin with the words "a priest has been charged" and then outline something awful that he had done, I secretly hoped he was an Anglican.


But the Catholic Church has always smugly evaded public condemnation of its priests with the blatant denial that it had any knowledge of these offences prior to the arrests announced by police.


How do the police seem to discover all the evidence necessary to convict a priest of sexual abuse while his own superiors - often living under the same roof - claim to have absolutely no knowledge of his deviant activities?


My own frustration with the immovable authority structures of the Church has helped me to understand why so many people have vacated churches over the decades. I have begun to comprehend how previously "staunch Catholics" can now admit to having lost their faith in God and even doubted the existence of heaven.


I have joined my voice to those many sincere Catholics who question God concerning the fate of victims of sexual abuse by religious people: "How can you allow this sort of thing to happen in your name? And why don’t you do anything to stop it?"


I have never heard a verbal response but I posit one for myself: "I have done something about it. I made you!"


And God has certainly given me some insights that most have not had access to. I have been privy to information and events that most are unaware of. I have seen first-hand the process of abuse, concealment and the shifting of blame.


My preliminary first-hand experience of meeting an alleged paedophile and seeing his privileged lifestyle being protected by the authorities was the infamous Father F whom I met in the presbytery of Merrylands where he once lived.


To my horror, he was still running around calling himself "Father". He was still being subsidised by the Diocesan purse despite having been charged with two cases of sexually interfering with altar boys in another diocese.


He had been transferred to the Parramatta Diocese and given permission to operate as a priest by Bishop Bede Heather who knew of outstanding allegations against him. The Catholic version of history will attempt to exonerate Bishop Heather and claim he was ignorant of F’s past, however he is recorded as having informed priests in the house at Merrylands of F’s "weakness for boys". He was later placed in charge of the altar servers in Merrylands parish where it is alleged he went on to abuse other altar boys.


Now despite having appeared on the ABC Four Corners program on July 2, 2012 and having an outstanding 139 charges against him, this notorious and self-confessed paedophile is still allowed to wander freely with a court order suppressing the publication of his name.


I can’t fathom the justification for this. He is no longer a priest, therefore not entitled to the usual protection afforded men of the cloth. He is already so well known.




4 corners
ABC's Four Corners recently delved further into the issue.

Do an internet search and you will discover at least fifteen sites that name him. He was mentioned on the Ray Hadley Morning Show on radio station 2GB and various other stations have also named him.


In my book Unholy Silence, I chose to name him despite the suppression order. I did so because I believe the community has a right to know if a dangerous person is living in their neighbourhood. If parents of children who were altar boys at Merrylands knew that Father F was being pursued by police for charges relating to crimes he committed against little boys in Moree, there would be no way they would have allowed their sons to accompany him in his car. Maybe their sons would still be alive today?


At least one of his victims from Merrylands committed suicide because F was let off in relation to offences against him.


Only once is it recorded that Jesus endorsed the killing of someone for doing something wrong.


It is when He said:



"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”

(Mark 9:42)

According to Jesus, those who commit crimes against children and turn them away from God deserve an early termination to their lives. They are the only sinners for whose sin there is no divine forgiveness affordable. It is these men who will be held accountable for those souls whose lives they have destroyed.


It is not good enough to wait for God to exact His vengeance. The men who were responsible for the employment of paedophiles and sex-abusers should also share in His divine retribution and according to me and many others, they deserve a fair chunk of it while they are alive.


I am not the first person to identify serious flaws in the way the Catholic Church deals with allegations of sexual abuse.


That priests are living double-lives and contradictions are apparent in the way they actually live, compared with the way they profess to live, is not in dispute.


In her scandalous but rarely read 2005 book, Priests in Love, Jane Anderson makes an admission to widespread sexual infidelity amongst Australian Catholic clergy.


The author surveyed thousands of priests promised anonymity and presented a compendium of confessions from men who have turned their back on mandatory celibacy to follow their own consciences.


However her revelations highlight the fact that there are a significant number of Australian clerics who are not living faithfully the promises they made on their ordinations. Their infidelity authorises other deviates to abuse the sacred trust that the Church empowers them with.


For the benefit of those still uncomprehending, my book explains how the enormous responsibility that the Church bestows on priests also makes the priesthood an inviting career for paedophiles and those with sexual deviances. The cleverly choreographed charade of celibacy becomes the cloak that hides a multitude of sins.


It has to go.



To read more about Father Kevin Lee's revelations visit www.unholysilence.com.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
 
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