.Updated 2 November 2016
*****Chrissie Foster, author of Hell On The Way To Heaven has just been nominated for the 2017 Victorian Local Hero award
At the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse, Catholic Arch Bishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, made the astonishing statement that “celibacy has worked well for the Church…… men do not need a sexual outlet…..”
He went on to say that if priests couldn’t cope without sex, they were quickly defrocked. Why were paedophile priests not instantly defrocked, but sent to poor parishes like Ballarat and Doveton, for instance?
Well, I also want to know why thousands and thousands of girls and boys worldwide, over centuries, have been raped by Catholic priests? Celibacy is the biggest joke the Catholic Church has played on us…priests have mistresses, visit prostitutes and rape children!
Jesus, if he existed at all, was not a celibate; in fact he married twice. Even the most saintly man finds celibacy difficult!
Former PM Tony Abbott, while LNP Leader of the Opposition, a failed Catholic priest, threatened to demolish the Royal Commission by withholding extra funding. It took an atheist female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse.
I have just finished reading Hell On The Way To Heaven by Chrissie Foster.
Mrs Foster’s story was highlighted when there was a push in Victoria for an investigation into the sexual assault of hundreds of children throughout the state of Victoria by paedophile Catholic priests and Brothers, over several decades.
In the book, Mrs Foster describes how the lives of her two young daughters, Emma and Katie, were destroyed by a paedophile priest. They were both raped at around 5 years of age by Father Kevin O’Donnell who was then aged in his seventies. Emma and Katie were raped repeatedly over several years and eventually Emma killed herself with an overdose of drugs. She had attempted suicide many times over the years.
Katie tried to drown her memories of what Kevin O’Donnell did to her with alcohol and now suffers from severe brain damage. When Katie was 15 years old she was hit by a car driven by a drunken driver while crossing a road after a drinking binge. The resultant brain damage left her with no short term memory. The memories of her repeated rape by O’Donnell are the clearest and she lives with them everyday. If that isn’t hell, well I don’t know what is! The book is harrowing reading because of what a Catholic priest did to these innocent young girls and the hundreds of other boys and girls he raped and sexually assaulted over a period of some 50 years. There is also evidence that he had young men calling on him in the early hours of the morning for sex. Whether or not he had sexually assaulted these young men when they were boys, we will probably never know.
Mrs Foster blames herself for blindly following her Catholic faith which she believes prevented her from recognising the early signs that her daughters were being sexually assaulted by this beast. But the really devastating truth about the sexual assault of hundreds of children is that the Catholic Church did nothing to stop it. Over the years several children and their parents complained to Bishops, including George Pell, and other priests, about Kevin O’Donnell’s behaviour, but they were not believed. Or O’Donnell was shifted elsewhere. One priest told a worried parent to keep her accusation quiet.
Emma and Katie were attending a Catholic school in Victoria when Kevin O’Donnell was the priest in charge of the local diocese. His control was all-encompassing; the local church, local schools, principals and teachers. His commands were law. As Mrs Foster puts it, this was the perfect setup for a paedophile. Without the knowledge of parents, O’Donnell could call into any classroom he liked, request a particular child to go with him on some fictitious errand. Or he would simply walk amongst the children on the playground until he sighted a child who would fulfil his loathsome needs. He would then take that girl or boy to a locked room at the back of the school hall or a disused Church cottage, and do whatever he liked with them. That was of course after they drank the drugged can of coke he offered them. He was cunning and experienced. To ply these very young children with alcohol would alert their teachers by smell and behaviour, that something was amiss. The children would all have to return to their class rooms after this disgusting excuse for a human being was finished with them. Mrs Foster and her husband, Anthony Foster, never found out what drug O’Donnell used to subdue their daughters, although a doctor did suggest that it was probably some form of valium.
If teachers complained about O’Donnell’s behaviour and his practice of taking children out of classrooms during school hours without parental consent, they bore the brunt of O’Donnell’s foul temper and some even lost their teaching positions. If nuns issued complaints to the Church hierarchy, they were ignored. There was nowhere else to turn; Father Kevin O’Donnell had the diocese and parish in his tight grip. Even when some parishioners were told of O’Donnell’s offending, they refused to believe it and so O’Donnell was able to continue sexually assaulting children with impunity.
Mr Foster is an atheist who had promised to bring his children up as Catholics and send them to Catholic schools as part of the marriage agreement with his future wife, a devout Catholic. Mrs Foster believes it was her own upbringing as a Catholic that allowed her to trust so much in priests. After all, weren’t they the representatives of God here on earth? Weren’t priests placed in the Catholic community to protect children and support parents? Even when she thought O’Donnell’s behaviour odd, Mrs Foster believed that he was always right in all things. He took his instruction from the pope who was infallible. To disobey a priest was a mortal sin.
You will be in disbelief, as were the Fosters, at some of the tactics used by the Catholic Church to exonerate itself from any blame for paedophile priests, such as the entrenched loophole in the truth called Mental Reservation. George Pell and his bishops use this loophole time and again in relation to their protection of paedophile priests, including when answering questions at the Melbourne Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses Into Sexual Abuse Of Children.
I have often wondered over the years if my mother had not been such a devout Catholic, would she have been able to overcome her traumatic childhood? She never stopped praying to God and relying on priests and nuns to help her through all the difficult times. And there were many of those.The Catholic Church always seemed to let her down when she most needed its support. Perhaps if she hadn’t been so indoctrinated, so reliant on a non-existent god, she may have sought some other avenue of support, like professional counselling. When you are in the Catholic system, it is very difficult to get off the treadmill. The spectre of committing a sin, with the prospect of going to hell, is a great deterrent for those with a strong faith. If you needed guidance or counselling, you visited your parish priest. If you were having problems with your children, you sent them to a priest for a talking to.
Mr & Mrs Foster were hopeful of gaining support and empathy when they were finally given an appointment with Archbishop George Pell after numerous letters, and requests to talk to him, were ignored. They asked him to take action against O’Donnell and had prepared a huge file on the suffering of their two daughters at the hands of O’Donnell. But the newly promoted Archbishop Pell was arrogant, evasive and rude, while refusing to believe that O’Donnell was a paedophile. Pell insisted that… ‘It’s all gossip until proven in court. And I don’t listen to gossip!’ The Fosters would have to go to court before the Catholic Church would give them financial assistance for all the doctors’, psychiatrists’ and hospital bills that were mounting around the disintegration of their daughters’ lives. Much later they were offered $50,000 for Emma by Pell, but they would have had to sign a confidentiality clause and would not be able to sue the Church. The Fosters turned it down.
Eventually the Fosters did receive compensation after many years pursuing the Church with the help of lawyers. It’s a testament to this couple that their marriage has survived the years of suffering they and their three daughters have endured at the hands of the Catholic Church. Their youngest daughter only escaped O’Donnell’s debauchery because by the time she was at school, he had retired from the parish. He died before the Fosters and police could take any action against him. The Church would protect its priests and the reputation of the Catholic Church at all costs. It was clearly evident in Pell’s actions and his treatment of the Fosters, that the welfare of the victims of paedophile priests was of no concern to him. In fact one of the official excuses that the Church relied on was that it was unaware of the harmful effect sexual assault had on children and that’s the reason they hadn’t taken any action against offending priests! Their role was to support priests and shield them from State Law.
I can relate to Mrs Foster’s claim in the book that it was only in the years following the shock of discovering what had happened to her daughters, and the loss of her faith, that she realised how brainwashed she had been by the Catholic system. Going to church every Sunday, regular confessions even though she had committed no sin, prayers every night. Of course total obedience to priests was mandatory under Canon Law, which she faithfully inculcated into her daughters, as her own mother had done with her. By the time she could see her past without the blinkers of blind trust, she was 40 years old. I was 17 and had just entered the workforce when I began to suspect that what I had been taught in all the Catholic institutions I’d lived in, on and off for the previous 17 years, was not based on reality. But it took much longer to throw of the yoke of indoctrination,
I too had it so clear in my mind, that when I went out into the world, I would be looked after by God because I had been such a good Catholic girl. This is what religious brainwashing does to you. You believe everything priests tell you, even if it overrules what your parents tell you. Or even what common sense might tell you! I can still remember when I was a little girl in class asking the nun if I had to love God more than my own father. She had just told us that we had to love God more than anyone else in the world because he was our true ‘father’. She insisted that was the case. I never stopped thinking about it and even believed I was committing a sin because I didn’t think I could love God more than my father. But I still trusted in God for everything in life.
Through all that the Fosters were suffering, Mrs Foster researched the way paedophiles groom children for their own sexual gratification. She was part of a group that wanted to alert other parents to the dangers by giving them information to help identify the signs children might exhibit if they were being sexually assaulted. Meanwhile the Catholic Church did nothing to inform parents that O’Donnell may have sexually assaulted their children and to seek help if they had any suspicions. Mrs Foster also used her daughters’ recollections of how O’Donnell was able to lure them away from safe environments. She tells us that no child can know how to protect themselves from a determined paedophile, and Father Kevin O’Donnell was a paedophile with 50 years’ experience.
Mrs Foster did her best while O’Donnell was still alive, to urge Archbishop Pell to defrock O’Donnell so that he could never use his priesthood to harm other children. But Pell would not hear of it, even though O’Donnell had recently been convicted for several counts of past sexual assaults on young boys. At the time O’Donnell was convicted for these particular sexual offences, the victims were grown men. The police informed the Fosters that these were representative charges only as there were so many it would have taken years for them all to be processed and heard in court! The police were anxious to do what Cardinal Pell & his church would not do; get O’Donnell behind bars where he could no longer sexually assault children. The Fosters’ other concern was that when O’Donnell was released from prison, the fact he was still a priest would enable him to use his position of trust to go on offending.
When O’Donnell was retired he was sent to live in a unit close to St Mary’s Church in his former parish of Dandenong. He began officiating at Mass on Saturdays. When complaints were made to Father Noel O’Brady that children were visiting O’Donnell at his unit, he took those complaints to the archdiocese. The ‘appropriate authority’ instructed Father O’Brady that ‘It’s not happening on Church property…we’re not responsible.’ O’Donnell was supported and protected by the Catholic Church until he died. It couldn’t have done this if he had been laicised. Obviously the Church knew what O’Donnell had been doing for decades, and right up until the end of his life, his welfare came before the hundreds of children whose lives he had totally destroyed. Many have committed suicide, many will never come forward, most continue to suffer.
I urge all parents who send their children to a Catholic school or intend sending their children to one, please read Chrissie Foster’s book ‘Hell On The Way To Heaven’ if only to be aware of the telling signs that your child might be vulnerable to sexual assault and to ensure that what happened to her beautiful girls will never happen again.
Think clearly and make sure you know what is contained in the Catholic Catechism the schools use to instruct the children in Catholic dogma.