The most worrying abuse story so far?

Posted: March 1, 2013 by J in Church
Tags: , , ,
Father Thomas Knowles giving a surmon at St Francis church in Melbourne.

Father Thomas Knowles. Photo: Angela Wylie

In any human organisation there will be sin, and even crime. When this occurs, it doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on the community where it took place. It just happens.

The challenge for organisations like churches is largely in how they respond when an incident does happen. It is here that they either exonerate themselves or get blood on their hands.

That’s why I’m so worried about the story below, from the Age newspaper. This seems to me more serious than any abuse story. Worse than any cover-up. On the face of it, it’s so outrageous, a reckless, destructive act on the church’s part. The word ‘brazen’ comes to mind. What’s going on? What does it mean?

I can think of two things it may mean. The slightly better scenario is that the Roman Catholic church is unwilling to do more than mild discipline for sexual predators among the clergy. Slap on the wrist stuff.

The worse explanation is that the RC church cannot afford to sack its sex offenders because there are too many of them. It knows that this is just the tip of a massive iceberg which would sink the church utterly, so it’s just avoiding the whole thing.

Both explanations are pretty scary. I sense bad times ahead. For all of us.

Here’s the article.


A LEADING Australian priest who sexually preyed on a disabled and vulnerable woman for 14 years has been allowed to return to preaching and running community groups at one of the nation’s busiest churches.

The recent decision by the Catholic Church to allow Father Tom Knowles to return to his full duties at St Francis’ Church in Melbourne’s CBD after around 16 months of ”administrative leave” has outraged his victim and victims’ groups.

Father Knowles’ reinstatement comes after the church apologised to Jennifer Herrick, paid her $100,000 in compensation and acknowledged ”the harm that can be caused to vulnerable people in such a case”.

Fairfax Media photographed Father Knowles preaching to parishioners last week at St Francis’, which hosts 10,000 parishioners a week. In his career, Father Knowles has been appointed as the head of an order and held other senior roles in NSW and Victoria.

Ms Herrick’s story highlights a rarely exposed facet of church abuse: vulnerable adult parishioners targeted by their priest for a sexual relationship.

Read more:

  1. portll says:

    It may not be appropriate of them, but perhaps they were just practising ‘repentance’ and ‘forgiveness from sins’. 😉 I think the biggest question is why sexual predation, grooming and other forms of sexual misconduct aren’t aren’t offences that carry an automatic penalty of disbarment, with referral of the full body of evidence always passed to the relevant authorities (namely the police) for investigation.

    Anyhow, the reason I posted is to say you’re a little late in raising this, perhaps:

    “Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has formally withdrawn Father Knowles ”faculties to engage in any public ministry within the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Melbourne”. Archbishop Hart is believed to have received letters from concerned Catholic parishioners after Father Knowles’ reinstatement was made public.”

    (apparently another ‘father’ re-instated him when he was overseas. communication problems in large organisations, supposedly!)

    • Jonathan says:

      thanks for the follow up John. Strange that the article popped up on the SMH website on March 1 without links to the later developments.

      A sorry business all round.

  2. portll says:

    I’m with you there – at least they followed up – but if you look at the number of Cardinals who’ve got dodgy records either personally or in dealing with crimes against the person, it makes me glad I’m not a Catholic. I guess change happens best from the inside, but if you’re going to elect someone who’s meant to be a blameless representative of pretty blameless people, it’s best to get rid of anyone who might even be perceived to have a compromising weakness, and that’s even without the accusations of pro-European bias.

    At least the decision has been reversed.

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