When I was a kid at the Marist Brothers school in Kogarah, ten miles south of Sydney, from age 8 till 15, I would not have known what “pedophilia” meant, had I ever heard the word. We all used, and confessed to using (!), the “bad” word “bugger”, and told one another to “bugger off” or to “go to buggery” – but we had no idea what the legal word meant. More to the point, we never heard of men of God “doing” it. The Brothers who taught us were not saints (with one notable, canonizable exception, Brother Charles Howard). Some were vicious in their unrestrained practice of corporal punishment of the children they had the vocation to teach and whose virtue they were supposedly dedicated to foster. But they and our parish priests were all honorable men, incapable of buggery or, worse, pedophilia . . .
In Catholic schools, in the Church and the world at large in the forties and fifties, there was never a hint of public scandal in this domain among the clergy and within religious Orders. During my sixteen years as a Franciscan, up till 1968 when I left the Order and the priesthood, I never heard of Christian and Marist Brothers, diocesan or religious clergy being accused of pedophilia. It was, of course, rampant – “in petto” – throughout their ranks, as we now know, and perhaps even in my own Order. But it is only in recent years that you and I have become conscious of the crimes committed, and the crimes covered up, for decades. It was the best-kept secret in Holy Mother Church, known no doubt to confessors but certainly to superiors of friaries, monasteries, parishes and dioceses. But now we all know. And as the years go by and a fraction of the guilty are brought to court, I am more and more disgusted at the revelation of the horror stories lived over decades by the silent victims of supposedly holy men of God, who were literally real buggers and criminal child-molesters.
The Church has paid God knows how many millions of dollars to a tiny minority of the victims in “compensation”, as though a check could soothe the shame and the pain of the poor kids who did not dare tell even their parents, for fear of being punished for lying, and kept silent for sometimes forty years before “coming out”, their lives ruined by the Church officially dedicated to their . . . salvation !
I personally was lucky as a child to have escaped the monsters and to live my religious and priestly life blissfully unaware of what many of my colleagues were doing. Ignorant and innocent, I still feel shame and anger at having been a part of a Church which could knowingly condone and cover up such crimes. But I am heart-broken when I think of the predators’ prey. “Sorry” will never make up for the permanent damage done to innocent kids. I left the Church for other reasons. But this one, had I known it, would have had me racing for the exit. How can priests and religious today live with such a stain on the immaculate albs of the clergy and the impeccable habits of the teaching Brothers ? I would be ashamed today to be part of such an institution.
D E L E N D A E C C L E S I A , D E L E N D A R E L I G I O