Assessment for clergy candidates flawed, sex inquiry hears

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The Courier

14 Feb 2017, 6:30 p.m.

Clergy sexual abuse victims Gordon Hill and Emma Furness at the child abuse hearing in Sydney.

Clergy sexual abuse victims Gordon Hill and Emma Furness at the child abuse hearing in Sydney.

A lack of understanding and compassion may have caused Catholic priests to hear the confessions of clergy committing child sex crimes and allow them to continue to abuse, an inquiry heard.

David Leary, an academic and Franciscan friar told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday, the Catholic Church still failed to fully comprehend how its systems allowed a culture of child sexual abuse to flourish.

He said assessment for clergy candidates was fundamentally flawed because it tested homosexual tendencies ahead of whether or not the applicant was a compassionate person.

Dr Leary also said the Catholic Church still did not fully understand how civil society works.

“I don’t think we understand the psychology that underpins our modern understanding of child sexual abuse. As a result, we fluff around the edges and we try to negotiate,” he said.

“It’s really clear in every other jurisdiction except the church: if somebody reports something to you, you have an obligation to report that.”

Dr Leary said in his experience, the sexuality of clergy is irrelevant, unless it is discerned they are emotionally immature.

The inquiry also heard under rules and regulations outlined in the Catholic Church’s seal of the confessional, clergy who confessed to sexually abusing children may be given “absolution” on numerous occasions if they were “sincerely sorry” for offending.

In his evidence to the commission, Father John Hogan, rector at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Parramatta said a priest could encourage an offending clergyman to hand themselves to authorities.

However, he believed priests were bound by the confidentiality of the confessional seal and could not report it to police.

Father Hogan told the inquiry under canon law, if the priest administering the confession had any doubt an offending priest was sorry, then he could withhold absolution.

The inquiry’s final hearing into the Australian Catholic Church, is examining how systemic institutional factors, including structure, governance and culture prevailed over the safety of children and allowed paedophile clergy to offend for decades.

The inquiry was also told there was no requirement for the Catholic clergy to be screened for paedophilia, however, the Vatican does have a detailed assessment procedure for homosexuality.

SEEKING ANSWERS: Gordon " Bushman Hilly" Hill, was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959. Picture: Lachlan Bence

SEEKING ANSWERS: Gordon ” Bushman Hilly” Hill, was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Survivor’s long journey for truth   

Gordon “Bushman Hilly” Hill drove 4252 kilometres for the truth.

Mr Hill was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959.

He was raped and beaten by priests almost daily during his childhood. His body is rippled with the physical scars of his past.

Mr Hill now lives in Geraldton, a coastal city in Western Australia.

But he packed his bags last Friday evening and drove all the way to Sydney to bear witness to the second week of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s final hearing into the Australian Catholic Church.

The journey which spanned thousands of kilometres took him three nights in total.

“It’s about closure for me,” Mr Hill said.

“I want to hear for myself what these bishops and senior church hierarchy are going to do about protecting children in the future.”

Unable to pay for accommodation, Mr Hill had planned sleeping inside his car for the week.

But he met another clergy sexual abuse survivor Emma Furness who offered him a bed at her house.

“Once again, it is the victims helping the victims,” she said.

Mr Hill previously told the inquiry about being raped by a priest at the age of five which escalated into repeated  “dungeon type” assaults when he was moved to the farm boys’ dormitory.

Mr Hill said he was at the hearing representing his two sisters who were orphans at Ballarat’s Nazareth House Girls’ Home.

“They both died of broken hearts long before their time,” Mr Hill said.

“They couldn’t cope with the abuse they went through at the orphanage.”

Mr Hill said he wanted to see the Catholic Church commit to changing canon law, amid claims clergy repeatedly misused it to conceal and excuse alleged child sex abuse.

He also want laws in place which compelled Catholic priests to break the confessional seal if clergy confessed to sexually abusing children.

• To contact the Centre Against Sexual Assault located on the corner of Vale and Edwards streets, Sebastopol, call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14.

5 Responses to Assessment for clergy candidates flawed, sex inquiry hears

  1. Sylvia says:

    In his evidence to the commission, Father John Hogan, rector at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Parramatta said a priest could encourage an offending clergyman to hand themselves to authorities.

    However, he believed priests were bound by the confidentiality of the confessional seal and could not report it to police.

    Father Hogan told the inquiry under canon law, if the priest administering the confession had any doubt an offending priest was sorry, then he could withhold absolution.

    First, the seal of confession must remain inviolable. I realize many do not agree, but, for the sake of the penitent, it must remain inviolable. No priest should ever discuss what he has heard in confession.

    I believe there are way to handle the issue of offenders who confess in confession. If canon lawyers wish to remedy the problem they can and will find ways to do so. No predatory priest who refuses to report his crimes to authorities (police) should be given absolution. I fail to see how there can be true sorrow for the crime/sin unless there is also sorrow for the damage done to the victim, the victim’s family and the priesthood. As far as I am concerned the offender must be willing to answer for his crimes on this earth in the hope that it will bring some sense of solace to the victim and comfort to families who rarely understand what caused their child to change, virtually overnight.

    As Is say, if Church officials and canon lawyers truly wish to guard both children and the seal of confession they can and will find a way.

    That aside, isn’t that Gordon ” Bushman Hilly” Hill one amazing man? He travelled 4252 kilometres to be at the hearings in person! Lacking finances to secure accommodations in Sydney he was actually going to sleep in his car for a full week. Then along came Emma Furness who kindly took him in 🙂

  2. JoeB says:

    oh yea the seal of confession should remain invioab…… nope, cant even finish that sentence without feeling sick to my stomach.
    “Oh I have been forgiven because I confessed my sin!” Due to the risk of really saying too much here …… End of rant.

  3. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Hey JoeB – I understand where you’re coming from. I was there a few years back. It is absolutely frustrating and angering to see our church hiding their criminal actions behind canon law. Convenient, huh?
    I’m not sure if you want to hear my take on it – please let me give it a shot.
    I decided to separate the church into two distinct categories #1) Doctrines and Dogma #2) Administration.
    I believe that doctrine and dogma remain unchanged, and can be followed in the interest of remaining in the church, and of leading a morally and ethically sound Christian life.
    On the administrative side, I believe we are seeing a sickness, a very real collapse of integrity within some very well placed men who run the church. These men are NOT leading their flocks (you and I included) with integrity and credibility! Therein lies the problem. Out comes our anger, our disdain, our refusal to participate because all we can see in our anger is a bunch of ordained hypocrites!
    Please give this some thought. I now direct my focus on the ordained men who have caused (and continue to) the erosion of our church. I believe they are the most serious problem within the church, as opposed to the church’s teachings.
    Please also give some thought to the majority of catholic priests ( who remain in hiding because of a lack of leadership) who are GOOD holy men, and just want to get on with their calling.
    Let me know what you think, please. Mike.

  4. Lina says:

    Mike…I’ll reply to your post hope you are not offended.

    Mike Fitzgerald says: “I believe that doctrine and dogma remain unchanged, and can be followed in the interest of remaining in the church, and of leading a morally and ethically sound Christian life.”

    Lina says: ‘The Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine and dogma remain unchanged it still doesn’t mean everybody agrees with it or follows it. One can lead a moral and ethical life without going to church or even being a Christian.’

    Mike says: “On the administrative side, I believe we are seeing a sickness, a very real collapse of integrity within some very well placed men who run the church. These men are NOT leading their flocks (you and I included) with integrity and credibility! Therein lies the problem. Out comes our anger, our disdain, our refusal to participate because all we can see in our anger is a bunch of ordained hypocrites!”

    Lina says: ‘I see way more than sickness in these ordained men. I see excuses for their evil behavior whether they are active participants in the crimes or silence partners in covering up these crimes, in ways such as carefully looking the other way or using prayer to sweep it all away.’

    Mike says: “I now direct my focus on the ordained men who have caused (and continue to) the erosion of our church. I believe they are the most serious problem within the church, as opposed to the church’s teachings.”

    Lina says: ‘Catholics have free will to remain practicing Catholics or not. Or just go with the flow with no concern for their actions or inactions. As well many folks have decided to leave the Catholic Church and continue to follow their conscience.’

    Mike says: “to the majority of catholic priests (who remain in hiding because of a lack of leadership) who are GOOD holy men, and just want to get on with their calling.”

    Lina says: ‘There are priests who do good work and many are troubled with the leadership probably are turned off with the politics and the inner workings of the Church/Vatican.
    The word ‘hiding’ for these priests. Is it more likely they have an obsession with fear? Has this fear paralyzed these priests due to the unknown what would happen to them if they spoke out or gave out any pertinent information to the authorities? I realize there are other complex factors involve here Mike whether real and imaginary.

    It’s difficult for me to say this nevertheless, a lot of these priests just don’t care what happens to victims and survivor of clergy abuse. They exhibit the attitude all will work out in the wash so to speak. Let God deal with it.

    No matter how you look at it Mike…it’s the victims and the survivors of clergy abuse that are getting very little to no justice at all.’

    Lina

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