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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Catholicism's victims

The Pope is in Sydney at the moment and one man has flown out from London to greet him.

Anthony Foster is an amazing man and father whose daughters were raped by a Catholic Priest, Kevin O'Donnell, when they were in primary school. Australian Cardinal George Pell stalled the family's compensation claim against the Church when he was archbishop of Melbourne. It's part of a pattern of abuse which the Church is being forced by some very heroic people to deal with.

Foster's eldest daughter, Emma, committed suicide after a long battle with drug addiction. His second daughter, Katherine, developed a heavy drinking habit, and was hit by a drunk driver in 1999 and left physically and mentally disabled and requiring 24-hour care.

They were raped over five years by O'Donnell when they attended Sacred Heart Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh between 1988 and 1993.

In 1996 O'Donnell was convicted of abusing 11 boys and one girl, aged between 8 and 14, between 1946 and 1977, and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He died after his release in 1997.

Initially offered A$50,000 (£24,000) by Cardinal Pell under his "Towards Healing" program, the Fosters pursued their case via the legal system for eight years, culminating in a six-figure settlement with the church in 2006 - one of the largest of its kind in Australia. Money which will be used for Katherine's care.

In 1998, when Emma was 16, Cardinal Pell wrote to her, saying: "It is my hope that my offer will be accepted by you as a preferable alternative to legal proceedings and that it too will assist you with your future."

"On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Kevin O'Donnell. I offer you my prayers."

Foster says that this apology was removed by lawyers for the church in 2002 during the court case over compensation.

"Emma carried the pain of her abuse for all her life until it ended recently," he told the ABC. "We really want to make sure that in her name and her memory something is done for other victims."

Pell, like other Catholic bureaucrats around the world, has a history of obstructing sexual abuse cases, presumably on the advice of lawyers.

"I want them to set up a system that provides a life-time help to victims, that begs forgiveness to victims," Foster says.

"An apology is not enough unless it is backed up with action, unless he removes all obstacles to continuing support for victims."

"They should come to us and beg for forgiveness."

Last week I posted a video about the role of the church in the genocide of Canada's indigenous peoples. The same thing happened in Australia, and so this is another part of their history which the Pope will apparently be apologising for in Sydney. As this very brave man Anthony Foster is trying to explain, apologies are not enough.
Postscript: The Pope did not meet with Anthony Foster. Instead he held a meeting with six carefully selected victims at the last minute in Sydney and press were told about it on the plane going home. That's media management!

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