As a young boy in my teens I decided I wanted to become a catholic priest, give my body to Jesus, SWOON, swoon over his wounds in the passion at Easter time. So they took me seriously, maybe they were already hard up [pun intended] and I was sent to the Sacred Heart Seminary Boarding School. We were next to the seminary where the novices were in all year retreat; each evening we all congregated in the chapel. The novices would swoon with passion for his mystical body. We observed silence during the evening meal, and instead of conversation vol 1 of Lord of the Rings was read to us while we ate. During Passion week a screening was held of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess, starring the dreamy eyed Monty Cliff, again SWOON.
The plot was centred on a murder, the perpetrator confesses to a priest who becomes the object of police investigation. The moral was that the seal of the confession was inviolable, no matter how compelling the reason to break the seal. “Faith of our fathers, living faith, we will be true to thee till death” was the redemptorist hymn we would sing at this time.
The issue of breaking the seal of the confessional has become a hot topic of public speculation lately; the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a Royal Commission to investigation child sexual abuse by catholic clergy and its coverup by catholic administrators. The opposition leader has weighed in to say that there is no reason for the seal of confession to remain intact where a perpetrator has confessed to another. My lovely sister Therese, who is the last of my family to continue to practise her faith, tells me that this rule has been waived in Ireland.
Catholic administrators are now in danger of falling foul of the law should they in a foolhardy manner continue to obstruct police investigation of child sexual abuse; the sorry history of Australian catholicism is that there is not one instance of reporting by a catholic administrator to the police. When a young perfumed body builder priest Leonard O’Rourke gave me and my altar boy classmates sex instruction and the principal of our primary school Sister Matthews found out that she had inadvertently provided the perpetrator with altar boy room service by sending boys during school hours to his room across the road she complained bitterly to bishopric administration. Various comments ensued, some along the lines of “If you don’t like the way things are you could always leave your job”.
I think those guys have a stiff job ahead explaining their attitude to the Royal Commission. Likewise the judges in Victoria and elsewhere, who, it has been reported in the Victorian State Commission enquiry, consistently gave catholic priest offenders lighter sentences than other offenders; likewise the judge of the Brisbane District Court who permanently stayed any further prosecution of O’Rourke, on the grounds that some witnesses had died and the primary school library and O’Rourke’s bedroom, both scenes of sexual assault by O’Rourke, had since been renovated making them “unrecognizable”.
A catholic cleric & lawyer Father Brennan recounted on ABC TV Lateline, that while he had been in Rome lately, a colleague had pointed out Cardinal Law of Boston next to Pope Benedict; Law escaped prosecution in the US for having hindered police investigating catholic clerics abusing children; in effect he is a refugee from the law in permanent exile in Rome. The one thing that the Vatican cannot countenance would be the prosecution and incarceration of a bishop of the church; the loss of face would be massive and irreversible. This goes some way to explaining Cardinal Pell’s peevish, shrill, often internally contradictory statements. Too many parents of abused children have come forward to claim that they complained to Pell but were rejected.
There are so many unresolved aspects to catholic history in Australia: Brennan said that church property was secured under church law, but not important questions about hierarchy responsibility and modes of complaint. The seal of confession is about to be examined. Although some parts of the eastern catholic church allow priests to marry, as do anglican and orthodox clerics, it is unlikely that the current hierarchy will give way. When Pope John 23 convened his innovative council, theologians proposed that male priests might marry and be allowed to con-celebrate the liturgy with their priest-wife. This would demonstrate in reality that women are equal to men. Sadly, one step too far for this fossil remnant of the Holy Roman Empire.
Pell astutely calls clerical pedophilia a “historical” situation. Is he wearing his Freudian lingerie here [Raquel Welsh as Lust]? Is it the situation that since the earliest days of the church, priests have groomed their acolytes to con-celebrate the liturgy. Psychologists have noted that children groomed early enough grow up to practise the same vice. Are we seeing merely the inconvenient result of years of historical patterning? How do we confirm this historical hypothesis? It must be verified and neutralised; sadly the old boy clerical club seems unwilling to reform itself.