Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Incompetent dealing with priestly paedophilia

  • 22 January 2013

If Bishop Harry Kennedy (pictured) were alive today he would be 97 years old. He became a bishop 41 years ago and retired 21 years ago. Chances are that, like others of his fellow bishops, he was a man of his times.

Thirty-one years ago he ordained a new priest, 'Fr F', and sent him to Moree parish in the Armidale Diocese. Two and a half years later, Kennedy abruptly terminated Fr F's appointment and sent him on 'what was euphemistically called 'sick leave'' to use the language of retired judge Antony Whitlam who has conducted a thorough inquiry into the case of Fr F. A psychologist gave him the 'all clear' for continued ministry.

Three years after the termination of Fr F's Moree appointment, he was arrested and charged with serious sexual offences against a boy, Damien Jurd, who had been an altar boy for Fr F in Moree. The magistrate improperly dismissed the charges. Fr F continued to serve as a priest.

Kennedy being long dead, we will never hear his side of the story. But Whitlam has been scrupulously fair in concluding on the evidence available to him that Kennedy's later treatment of Damien's parents was a disgrace, Kennedy's failure to look into various matters was 'utterly inexplicable', and his record keeping was abysmal.

If the spotlight of a retired judge were not thus applied to the issues which arose once Fr F was moved from Moree to various other parishes in the dioceses of Armidale and Parramatta, it is unlikely that the present bishop of Armidale would have publicly acknowledged that Kennedy 'failed in his duty of governance [of the diocese] and, more importantly, in his duty to the pastoral care of its people'.

It will be no surprise if the McClellan Royal Commission highlights such failings by some other bishops of that generation. The judicial spotlight is welcome.

The 4 Corners program Unholy Silence which led to the Whitlam inquiry made much of a meeting on 3 September 1992 between Fr F and three still serving senior clergy — Frs Usher, Lucas and Peters. According to the 4 Corners reporter Geoff Thompson, 'What happened at the meeting is crucial to understanding the major flaws in