So-called 'witch-hunt' holds Wilson to account

23 Comments

 

A modern day witch-hunt is said to involve the unreasonable pursuit of someone who has a 'different' point of view or characteristic. Accusations, intimidation and falsehoods are the order of the day. To bring the 'witch' down someone must point the finger at them and then at least one person must go on the hunt.

Philip WilsonA recent article in Eureka Street written by freelance journalist Alan Atkinson suggests that Adelaide Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson — recently convicted of concealing the abuse of boys by paedophile priest James Patrick Fletcher — considers himself to be a victim of such malice. Atkinson expresses the view that Wilson may well be right.

So, here I am, outing myself as chief finger pointer. I am a survivor of sexual abuse by Fr Fletcher. It was me who first made a complaint to NSW police that Wilson knew what Fletcher had been up to. It was me who wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax asking what Wilson knew and when. It was me who appeared on ABC TV naming the Archbishop. By extension, it must be me who initiated the witch-hunt and stirred up public hysteria.

Credit where it is due to Mr Atkinson who notes that he deplores the sexual abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse. However, as a journalist writing in a Jesuit publication, I am not sure it is reasonable for him to suggest that Wilson has been 'stoned by all and sundry in the national village square'.

No one I know — victim, supporter or reporter — has ever sought anything other than accountability from people in the Catholic Church (including Wilson) who until relatively recently were insisting that the Church knew nothing about the child abusers in their ranks — a now thoroughly discredited claim.

It is also, I suggest, unrealistic for Mr Atkinson to think the media won't report on such a high profile case, or ignore public demands for the Archbishop's resignation or dismissal.

Here are a few irrefutable facts. Archbishop Wilson has been convicted of a crime in NSW by a court after allegations by a number of child sex abuse survivors (some of whom have never met each other), an exhaustive Special Commission of Inquiry, a police strike force investigation, consideration of the merits of the case by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, the approval of the NSW Attorney General to proceed to prosecution, and four appeals by the Archbishop to have the matter quashed (including to the full bench of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal).

 

"Even if at age 26 Wilson was ignorant of the law (which is not a defence) and his obligations to vulnerable children, he did not remain so for the following 30 years."

 

There are also extensive 'conviction' and 'sentencing' findings by Magistrate Robert Stone which summarise the case, the evidence, the witnesses, the submissions and the reasons for his findings. These documents hold the answers to many of Mr Atkinson's questions.

Nonetheless, based, it seems, on one wrong date in an eight year old television piece (quickly acknowledged and corrected by the ABC), an assertion by a church media spokesperson that Wilson felt ambushed, and trouble with ABC management about his encroachment into another journalist's work, Mr Atkinson draws the personal conclusion that 'rightly or wrongly' Wilson was a target.

He also attempts to interpret the motivation for the Archbishop's behaviour over the past eight years by saying it may not be a stretch that from 2010 Wilson believed he was a target and that he (Wilson) 'believes he has told the truth and is unwilling to give in to what he perceives to be a witch-hunt'. I am reliably informed that in coming to these views, and having them published in Eureka Street, neither Mr Atkinson (nor the editor) had read any of the court judgements or decisions.

There are other suggestions and opinions articulated in Mr Atkinson's article that warrant consideration — if only for their apologist tone. The Archbishop was a 'junior priest'; he was 'little above an altar boy'; his responsibility was to inform the Bishop; the law in this regard is so much clearer now; another man (a former priest) had no idea in the 1970s that child sexual abuse was a crime; how can anyone determine what was in someone else's mind in 1976 or even 2004; Wilson could have been telling the truth when he said he couldn't remember the conversations with the altar boys.

Such suggestions lack credibility — particularly when the NSW criminal justice system has expended much effort in establishing facts over assumptions, assertions and pre-judgements. Wilson may well have been a junior priest in 1976, but he was a 26 year old adult. He may have been ignorant of the law, but it could not have escaped his attention that two boys were making similar alarming allegations about a fellow priest. Nor could Wilson have been ignorant to the moral imperative to do something about the situation.

The law in these matters has not become clearer recently — for decades in NSW it has been a crime to conceal the criminality of another person, and even if at age 26 Wilson was ignorant of the law (which is not a defence) and his obligations to vulnerable children, he did not remain so for the following 30 years. Wilson's evidence during his trial was found by Magistrate Stone to be evasive and dissembling, and Wilson's repeated insistence during prosecution questioning that he would never believe anything was a fact until it was proven in a court of law, was excruciating to watch.

In his article Mr Atkinson notes he found information missed by the ABC in just 20 minutes. I would like to invite him (and all the readers of Eureka Street) to take a little time to read the six court decisions, the publicly available statements, all the articles, and the press releases. The final report of the child abuse Royal Commission and all of the case study reports on the Catholic Church might also make informative reading.

After doing so, Mr Atkinson may still hold the view that the Archbishop has been unreasonably targeted. That is entirely his right. If he has clear evidence of a witch-hunt or a public stoning then tell us and give us the evidence.

However, he might also form the view that the focus on the Archbishop is not a witch-hunt, or targeted scapegoating, or mob hysteria. It may simply be the first case of a high profile person being called to civil account for knowing in 2004 that he had information which may have helped in the conviction of a paedophile priest and failing to report that knowledge. It may also be what Mr Atkinson describes as the abhorrent behaviour of concealing child abuse.

Finally, I repeat an offer I first made to Mr Atkinson and Archbishop Wilson eight years ago. If you are convinced that you are right, and I am wrong, let's get together on live television and talk about who knew what and when they knew it.

 

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Peter GogartyPeter Gogarty is an advocate and survivor of child sexual abuse. He was sexually abused by James Fletcher after Philip Wilson was told in 1976 that Fletcher had sexually abused boys.

Topic tags: Peter Gogarty, Philip Wilson, clergy sexual abuse, Alan Atkinson, Royal Commission

 

 

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Peter Gogarty, your stamina and strength to shine a bright light on the dark secrets of a global religious institution can only be described as courageous and remarkable. Australian Psychologist, Frances Moran notes the decree of secrecy has been the means by which the global church has averted a profound theological crisis. A culture of silence has been deeply embedded within the mind-set of the hierarchy, who deal with allegations of misbehavior. The child abusing priest is a 'theological impossibility'.
PBoylan | 19 July 2018


Very good arguments and I agree that the Church should not be above the law. Putting the good name of the church and their power above the heinous violation to children is criminal. I was violated persecuted in the most despicable way that it has had enormous impact on my life and still hunts me at this late stage in my life. I have only just survived but the memories remain like a stain on the brain.
Mea | 19 July 2018


Thank you so much Peter for coming here and saying what you have. As I said in one of my comments, we only know what we know from what we read and hear, but I did not go to the trouble of reading what you rightly suggest we all do before we comment, in this case "the six court decisions, the publicly available statements, all the articles, and the press releases". To be completely honest, I am STILL having trouble believing the Church and its leaders are capable of bad things even though I know from firsthand experience and research that they are. If after all that, I can entertain the idea that Wilson is being 'hunted', how much more cognitive dissonance must be happening in the minds of those who haven't been abused or done the research. Trust is the first victim of abuse. It is so hard to trust anyone but there is such a desperate need and desire to be able to trust someone. I'm sorry, Peter for saying what I have. I do understand the whole reality that had Wilson acted, you would not have been abused.....and there are thousands like you/us. Thank you again.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 20 July 2018


Thank you Peter for writing this piece, and yet again using your voice to speak out about child sexual abuse in the church and your experiences of it - doing so time and again no doubt comes at a personal cost. As a survivor you have not shied away from telling your story as many times as much as is necessary for justice and change, which shows incredible strength. Strength to you.
Meg Grey | 20 July 2018


I know how Peter feels. I understand his frustration and pain and I can see in his words how he is trying to come to grips with those who appear to be expressing sympathy for Archbishop Wilson and the Church. But, I was also abused, not by a priest or anyone involved in an institution but by a man living up the street. I can't come forward, I can't get compassion or closure or compensation. I can only cope with the pain. A pain made worse by the media who appear to have zeroed in on the Catholic Church and who seem more interested in destroying the church than in helping the victims, particularly victims like me.About thirty years ago, while going through a rough patch I wrote a little poem that expressed how I feel.

Deep inside me is the pain

This pain I feel

This pain of shame

The shame I feel inside

I want to break the bonds of pain

This pain of shame

The pain I feel inside

I cry

I try to open up

But all I do is hide

I want to scream

I want to shout

I want to let it all come out

But silent I remain

Silent in my shame

Silent in my pain

I often read over this little verse and I wonder, Lionel, my abuser, was not a priest and there are no sensational headlines to be had, so, who cares.


Brian Leeming | 20 July 2018


Sorry, it's not good enough to simply say "plough through the court transcripts to find the answers to your questions". As the media have not done their job of reporting WHY the Court made the verdict it did, then you should directly answer Mr Atkinson s very reasonable questions, since you imply that you know the answers. In particular I think we would all love to know by what amazing process the Court concluded, when a 67 year old man said that he didn't remember something that was allegedly said to him 42 years earlier, the Court found it proven, beyond all reasonable doubt, that it was said, AND that he did in fact remember it, AND that he was lying about it.
Peter K | 20 July 2018


Keep speaking it out, Brian, and trust that there is an audience that needs to hear you.
John | 20 July 2018


Brian, I am so sorry to hear of your situation. I read through your poem and I found it so moving. Yes, it is strange that the media seem to focus so exclusively on the Catholic Church, and I often wonder how this must affect people like you. I hope and pray that you can find inner peace and healing. And never doubt that there ARE people who care!
Cathy Taggart | 21 July 2018


Brian, I understand well your complaint. The therapist I saw for many years was dealing with so many people who felt left out when the royal commission began. All this activity was happening around them and they were invisible because they weren't 'lucky enough' to have been abused by a religious leader. I do hope and expect that the consequences of starting with the church and other institutions will result in more exposure of your kind of 'everyday' abuse, just as serious and damaging as 'ours'. Even having your story published here is a sign of that beginning. Don't give up. But above all, I hope you have been able to resolve the probable complex PTSD that has resulted from your abuse. Take care and if you haven’t already done so, educate yourself about abuse, talk to people, get support if you haven't already, but get good help, too, from people who truly understand and hopefully, who also use EMDR as a form of therapy - I believe it to be one of the most effective ways. Be kind to yourself and know that there are people who do care about you and others in your context.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 21 July 2018


Peter if not for oustanding individuals like yourself, men like Wilson would still be pretending they knew nothing. Those individuals who deliberately covered up abuses of boys, girls and women must face the consequences of their behaviour. The Catholic Church has to face up to this awful reality and ensure it never happens again, instead of making excuses.
Wayne McMillan | 23 July 2018


I commend Eureka Street for giving voice to conflicting views on this particular issue. For me, the witness of people like Peter G and plenty of other evidence that the church still doesn't 'get it' conflicts with what we may know about Wilson. We are looking through this glass darkly without seeing the transcript and, according to Frank Brennan (in a comment response to another article in ES), it is surprisingly difficult to get hold of. But I think Peter K asks the most pertinent question, that is, on what basis can Wilson's testimony that he wasn't told about the abuse or, to the best of his recollection, can't remember being told, be dismissed with any objective confidence?
Faz | 23 July 2018


Thank you for publishing Peter Gogarty's defence/evidence. Upon reading the earlier Atkinson article, it felt like 'go easy on Philip Wilson'. My stance is that Justice needs to be seen to be done, or it is a sham. Hopefully Wilson will show some guts and endure the sentence as any citizen.
Patricia Langan | 23 July 2018


To Brian Leeming, it breaks my heart to read your piece. There are so many who are silent and suffering. Yes, I think there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the community, especially considering the latest revelations in the Hedley Thomas "Teachers Pet" series and the Education Department's response or rather lack of. The easy way to know if there is a witch hunt against the Catholic Church is to see how authorities the law and media handle these allegations and other cases. So far there has been silence.
Jane | 23 July 2018


Brian - your story and your poem touched me deeply. I can find no adequate words to thank you for sharing your pain with us. I hope and pray that you are being supported, loved and cared for and are some way towards finding peace.
Joanna Elliott | 23 July 2018


I entirely agree that this whole discussion is very worthwhile and that ES is to be commended for facilitating it. Also of course that Peter Gogarty's contribution is 'a bright light' in so many ways. But two underlying threads in the conversation are increasingly worrying me. The case has been decided according to due process of law, something I would have hoped we all respect. And it is likely that if Archbishop Wilson had simply resigned the conversation would, if it was happening at all, be along very different lines. Given all of that, are some comments here based, by implication at least, on an assumption that the case would not have been brought at all without an ongoing witch hunt? And secondly is Archbishop Wilson's refusal to resign based on an assumption that to do so would jeopardise his appeal? How well overall are we able to separate witch hunt from process of law?
margaret | 23 July 2018


I live in Ireland where institutional child abuse (i.e. rape and associated crimes) was rampant but ignored (i.e. covered up) for decades. But at a slightly more spiritual level I reflect upon Jesus's healing encounter (Luke 17) with the ten lepers near Galilee / Samaria, nine of whom 'forgot' to return to thank Jesus. What can we do about healing our current 'leprosy' i.e. child abuse/rape besides identifying its epidemic proportions and applying the criminal law. Is there anything more urgent and important than loving and caring for vulnerable children. To cite Erik Erikson who once remarked: “Someday, maybe, there will exist a well informed, well considered, and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit.” We still wait for that day. Over to you compassionate Eureka readers.
Dr Philip O'Keeffe | 23 July 2018


Peter, a witch-hunt is a process conducted by many, so don't assume responsibility for this suggestion of Atkinson's which applies to the court of public opinion. However, you are mistaken in disregarding Atkinson's comment that he read detailed reports of the judgment by people in the court and from later readings of it. Atkinson is a responsible journalist, bound by a code of ethics and a former employee of the ABC. Whatever our sympathies for you, I heard you say on Victorian radio again recently that you had never personally taken your complaint directly to +Wilson. Again, the last paragraph of your response (prior to this) betrays your lack of certainty, and confirms my belief that you fall into the “he must have known” camp. Victims of abuse - and I am one of them - are notoriously susceptible to a kind of emotive reasoning that requires those who listen to take great care that they understand precisely what we victims are saying by very consciously setting aside their sympathies and biases so as to separate fact from impression. My prayer for you is that, not only you find justice, but also a lasting peace for yourself and your family.
Dr Michael Furtado | 24 July 2018


Thank you, Peter Gogarty, for persevering to speak in a clear voice to this muddy and increasingly muttered debate over Wilson’s role and responsibility. I was molested by a relative every fourth Sunday for six years from my fourth birthday. The abuse ended when he died. That afternoon I wore my brand new cottontails to go to the corner store and spend all my pocket money on lollies. When I was thirteen a nun who taught me history began to abuse me and my best friend after class. It began so slyly, so silently, it crept up on us and almost tore us to pieces. Our friendship died but we both escaped, eventually. Years later I watched that nun on tv complain about her life in the convent and how hard it was to leave and make her own adult life. I wanted to smash her face. When I was a seventeen year old virgin I was gang raped in the residential college where I lived. The chief rapist then stalked me every day on campus for a year. I have had quite a lot of therapy. I have heard quite a lot of rubbish about sexual abuse. When the whole of the western world began to speak about child abuse in the Catholic Church I felt thrilled, not left out or bypassed or forgotten nor ignored - I was thrilled. I loved that the world was finally looking at children, seeking out children who had been abused, and listening. Listening to adults who, as children, had been permanently hurt by adults who were sworn to protect and nurture them. I have been astounded over and over by the refusal of the church in which I was raised, to admit wrongdoing, to do the very thing those nuns and priests and brothers badgered us into believing we must do to be Catholics. That humility, the willingness to admit wrongdoing, misjudgment, neglect, was, I had been taught, at the very core of Catholicism. Instead we have seen a shameful parade of proud, vain, bitter, pompous, belligerent, self pitying men who, in their desperation to escape the public gaze, blame the media, the victims, their old age, their busy lives, their junior clergy, the relatives of victims, anyone at all, rather than to practice their faith and admit wrongdoing. You can all but hear them squirm and twist as they avoid the public gaze. Men like Philip Wilson, stripped of their layers of church protection, are pathetic. All Wilson seems to have left is his mean spirit. I am still delighted that child abuse in the Catholic Church is being discussed and revealed. Abuse in the church and in the wider world will never be as easy to conceal as it was before journalists in Boston, throughout Ireland, and here in Sydney and Melbourne persevered against the might of the church and its powerful friends to bring the truth to light. Thanks to people like Peter Gogarty those journalists had true, clear, compelling, horrible stories to tell. Sexual abuse is part of the lives of at least 25% of us today. But thanks to people like Peter Gogarty that statistic is likely to be lower in the generations to come. I think that is a victory.
Ruby Keeler | 27 July 2018


Ruby, thank you for your candid testimony here. I think, however, that Archbishop Wilson's entitlement to defend himself fully by due legal process should be respected. I'd also like to know the source of the 25% figure you mention, and whether it applies to victims of clerical abuse only.
John | 30 July 2018


John, Neither Ruby nor anyone else on this list has suggested that the Archbishop should be denied his access to legal process, including an appeal.
Ginger Meggs | 01 August 2018


Ginger, I don't assume that the reason for the former Archbishop's appeal is an alleged "mean spirit", with its implication that it would be better had he not chosen the course he has. Besides, my insistence on his right to appeal is not directed at ES readers only.
John | 01 August 2018


John, if I read Ruby correctly, neither she nor anyone else here is suggesting that Wilson's appeal is motivated by 'mean spirit'. With respect, I think you need to separate the legal process from the reluctance to resign. There are two different issues with two different threshold levels.
Ginger Meggs | 01 August 2018


Distinct but related, I'd suggest, Ginger.
John | 02 August 2018


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