Josephites Weigh in on MacKillop's Excommunication

More details of the connection between Blessed Mary MacKillop's excommunication and the sisters' reporting of sexual abuse.  This time, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, MacKillop's order, weigh in on the story.  From CNS:

The religious congregation co-founded by Blessed Mary MacKillop has confirmed a media report that one reason clergy pressured a bishop to "destroy" her was that members of the order reported a suspected child-abusing priest.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. program Compass was scheduled to broadcast Oct. 10 that angry clergy pressured Adelaide Bishop Lawrence Shiel to "destroy" the nun after they heard that sisters reported Irish Father Patrick Keating, from the Kapunda parish north of Adelaide, was allegedly abusing children. The nuns reported the abuse to Blessed MacKillop's co-founder, Father Julian Tenison Woods.

Father Woods then went to the diocesan vicar general, who sent Father Keating back to Ireland.

"Mary MacKillop's excommunication from the church, for a period of five months from September 1871, is an event that has been comprehensively documented," the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart said in a statement issued to The Record, Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Oct. 6.

"There were several factors that led to this painful period for Mary and the sisters. The reasons for Mary's excommunication have been written about and commented on in the public domain since that time. This is consistent with the information contained in the Compass program," the statement said.

Father Paul Gardiner, a former postulator for Blessed MacKillop's canonization cause, told Compass that Father Keating's fellow Kapunda priest, identified as Father Horan, "was so angry with this that he swore vengeance -- and there's evidence for this -- against Woods by getting at the Josephites and destroying them."

Father Gardiner said that Father Horan, who worked for Bishop Shiel, urged the prelate to break up the nuns.

Sister Kathleen Dawe, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart from Western Australia, confirmed to The Record that Blessed MacKillop had visited Pope Pius IX in 1873 to counter a move by clergy against the congregation.

The order's congregational leader, Sister Anne Derwin, also confirmed to The Record that Irish clergy in Adelaide were "determined to bring (Blessed MacKillop) down" by questioning her drinking habits, obedience, the way she governed her order and accusing her of not paying her debts. Blessed MacKillop was cleared of all charges in her lifetime.

After clergy persuaded Bishop Shiel to send Father Woods to New South Wales, he grew angry at Blessed MacKillop's "seeming imprudence" when she informed him that she would look for another place where she could follow God's call.

While Bishop Shiel excommunicated Blessed MacKillop Sept. 22, 1871, when she was 29, Father Gardiner said on Compass that the prelate was "a puppet being manipulated by malicious priests. This sounds terrible, but it's true."

Bishop Shiel reversed the excommunication order Feb. 22, 1872, a week before his death, "realizing he had been badly advised by clergy," according to a document that the sisters released to The Record.

Father Gardiner, now chaplain of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre where she founded her first school, told The Australian newspaper Oct. 7 that the claims published in September were false; media reported that the future saint was the one to report the priestly abuse and that it was the reason for her excommunication.

He also said he feared the "misleading coverage" was an attempt to take a swipe at the church and distract the public before Blessed MacKillop's canonization at the Vatican Oct. 17.

"Early in 1870, the scandal occurred and the Sisters of St. Joseph reported it to Father Tenison Woods, but Mary was in Queensland," Father Gardiner told The Australian, adding that his words had been twisted to suit the "ill will" of media outlets.

"There was a long chain of causation. Somehow or other, somebody typed it up as if to say I said Mary MacKillop was the one to report the sex abuse," Father Gardiner said. "I never said it -- it's just false -- it's the ill will of people who are anxious to see something negative about the Catholic Church. There's already enough mud to throw, though."  --CNS

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7 years 7 months ago
I'm simply amazed and flabergasted at the repeated  non-prudent and non-reflective and non-checking-out-the facts on every story that touches upon possible abuse by a Catholic priest. Corrections and distinctions and such are welcome, but seems to me the main damage has already usually been done. Isn't it enough of reputations ruined - even of figures from the last century - inuendos of incompetence and criminality made on scant evidence, and mere rumor making headlines? Is there any way to move away from this, "Witch Hunt" that feeds the presses and hawkers? I think there is, and I think any truthful and reflective 'reporter' of the 'news' knows just what means to take, despite the temptation to sensationalism.


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