Alex Gibney in NY directed a doco about the psychology of a Catholic priest Fr Murphy who systematically abused deaf underage boys. He was interviewed on ABC Lateline tonight; there is a great deal that has yet to take place in our culture before the scourge of clerical sexual abuse ceases.
Today the media has looked at Pope Francis 1; a senior Australian cleric Cardinal Pell had the bald faced temerity to sing his praises; Pell announced that Pope Francis would successfully tackle the issue of clerical child sexual abuse; this from an individual who himself was accused of abuse, who sought every evasion possible, who was never transparently cleared of the accusation. Could the hypocrisy be any more dramatic?
During the coverage of Gibney’s doco, media reportage was shown of Archbishop Ratzinger obviously berating the doco director for asking about US clerical predators; the condemnation was clear on Ratzo’s face; he was not a willing and open participant in the discovery and prosecution of clerical abuse. Indeed, Gibney talks about a cleric known as the Fixer, an official with mainstream connections and Vatican money; however, the money was always used to placate and silence victims, never to actively prosecute predators.
There was some discussion about the official church policy about dealing with pedophilia; it was always to silence outspoken victims. The perpetrators rarely granted access to outsiders; in Qld, Fr McArdle was prosecuted for his crimes in the 1990’s; the solicitor who acted on my behalf for 10 years until the Rockhampton diocese agreed to settle with child abuse victims managed to interview the perp in his prison cell. Steve Harrison was a man with considerable interpersonal skills and cajoled then perp to giving him info he was able to use in later cases; Harrison during that useless, frustrating decade of ridiculous phone calls, changed his employer at least four times; clearly his modus operandi was ever personal advancement.
Harrison and tonight Gibney both remarked on the carisma of the perpetrator; I remember one social outing my abuser organised, a bushwalk; when I turned up on the day there were a hundred followers. One of the clever techniques he made use of was to invoke religious sentiment arbitrarily. On the bushwalk, O’Rourke turned aside to urinate; I stood nearby and there was an awkward moment; extraordinarily, O’Rourke was able to feign modesty. Likewise, in his bedroom, when he was giving me sexual instruction, he made use of a slogan which he uttered with the conviction of authority: “I am authorised to offer you instruction”. He would underline his moral authority by quite arbitrary moral pronouncements. He would say: “You can touch yourself here, but NEVER THERE.” The distinction was quite arbitrary and meaningless.
The doco director confirmed social research into US Catholic priests, that 50% of them conduct an active sexual life; this implies or involves further deception. In my case, the perp O’Rourke first was sexually involved with the housewives of our town; the novel Peyton Place, was after all, contemporary reading; one housewife’s reaction to the news that the priest was interfering with altar boys was ” At least we won’t have to do the duty quite so often”.
Some US priests had decided that in lieu of access to normal sexual outlet, sex with altarboys waws a passable alternative and in fact, their entitlement. To maintain this covert sexual activity priests had to sustain a systemic duplicity. Where they continued to believe in sin and guilt the central Qld pedo priests would drive hundreds of miles to have their confession heard by another pedophile priest.
Tonight’s ABC presenter asked the doco director if it was likely that Pope Francis 1 would open the centralised vault of documents collected by Archbishop Ratzinger; Gibney felf sure that the momentum of abuse and disclosure was creating pressure on Benedict’s career and he felt sure it had caused his premature retirement. The scuttlebutt in Australia is that the Vatican ambassador used his trips back to Mama Roma to secrete inconvenient documents such as the records books of pedophile priests, noting their secondment to different parishes. In my interview with the Bishop of Rockhampton, I asked whether that book recording the career movements of McArdle and O’Rourke were available; his nervous response was that the Brisbane archbishop had taken possession of them, but that they had disappeared.
This is where the much vaunted humility and simple living of Pope Francis does not impress me: he is a conservative and does not agree ideologically with the marriage of priests, much less gay culture. Pedo priests themselves have stated that in lieu of other sexual behaviour, they will continue to abuse altarboys; there is only one solution, that is a systemic one that Francis is unwilling to countenance.
My own life has been one of coping with the attitude of my family; the traditional pedophilic culture in the church has only changed alongside change in the larger society. In Ireland, it required extensive legal action to eradicate the evil; In Australia the High Court is more than 50% Catholic. When my abuser was taken before Judge Foord of the Brisbane District Court in the 1990’s, action against him was permanently stayed because witnesses for the defence were now deceased, but more hilariously, the scenes of criminal activity, the primary school nurses’ station and the priest’s bedroom had been renovated beyond recognition.
I must wonder, despairingly, what the state of play is in third world countries; here a national enquiry has only begun last year; in a country like Nigeria, where catholicism is practised unquestioningly, where church involvement is practically a career, criticism of priest behaviour would never happen.
In my family, while being gay was a disreputable state during the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, my family would conveniently accept the prejudice that being gay was an unsatisfactory state of behaviour, they often repeated that O’Rourke had turned me gay; this enabled them to ignore my different lifestyle. Nor will the friend of the people, Pope Francis, trouble with my situation.