Australian Priest Denies MacKillop's Personal Involvement in Abuse Case

Mary MacKillop Sculpture by Janus Serendipity (Flickr)

The priest who was widely quoted here and here and here as stating that part of the reason for the 1870 excommunication of the soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Mary MacKillop was her participation in raising questions about a sexually abusive priest, now says he was misquoted.  His quotes were first reported by the Australian media on Sept. 25.  Here's the new story, about the Paul Gardiner, S.J., the former postulator of her cause, just released today from The Australian.

The priest who spent 25 years lobbying for Mary MacKillop's canonisation has angrily dismissed recent media reports. The reports said the soon-to-be saint was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for exposing acts of child sex abuse by a South Australian clergyman. Paul Gardiner, chaplain of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, said the claims, published on ABC Online and in Fairfax newspapers last month, were false, and he feared the misleading coverage was an attempt to take a swipe at the church and distract the public in the lead-up to MacKillop's canonisation on October 17.  ABC Online and Fairfax both reported that MacKillop's ousting from the church in 1871 was prompted by her exposure of a Kapunda priest's abuse of local children. The claims were based on remarks made by Father Gardiner in a documentary made for ABC TV's Compass program...."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.


On the other hand, Fr. Gardiner is saying that MacKillop's order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, reported the case of abuse to the co-founder of their order, Fr. Julian Tenison Woods.  Later in the new report in The Australian he says: "Early in 1870, the scandal occurred and the Sisters of Saint Joseph reported it to Father Tenison Woods [MacKillop's co-founder], but Mary was in Queensland and no one was worried about her."

This seems to clarify Fr. Gardiner's original statement, in which he said: "Priests being annoyed that somebody had uncovered it — that would probably be the way of describing it—and being so angry that the destruction of the Josephites [MacKillop's order] was decided on."  In other words, Father Gardiner asserts that reports of abuse still led to reprisals.

But now we see that the "somebody" who "had uncovered it," according to Fr. Gardiner, who is 86 now, was not MacKillop herself but members of the order she founded.  (Which begs the question: Is it likely that something so incendiary would be reported to the co-founder of the order without MacKillop, the co-founder and superior general, ever learning about it?)  Still, the excommunication of Mother Mary MacKillop says a great deal about what this holy woman had to undergo, whether a result of her own actions regarding the abuse, or her sisters' actions.  

Update: Still more from Fr. Gardiner in Border Watch.

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ed gleason
7 years 10 months ago
I'll bet we have another case of 'backing up the truck without looking'. ordered by a hidden hand.. dumb all will out.. in the next news cycle.
7 years 10 months ago
One thing you should know about the media in Australia. There are two main groups, Fairfax and News Limited. In the lead up to World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 each group bid for the rights to be the official news group to cover the event (have official photographs released to them and be granted access). Fairfax lost out and has since been even more critical of the Catholic Church than it was before (probably why they lost out).  The papers that ran the 'misquoted' and inaccurate version of Fr Gardiner and the documentary makers were Fairfax owned. (Others including News outlets then reported the reports).
The ones that ran the 'new story' as you called it are News Limited papers. This may lend some more credence to Fr Gardiner's assertion that some people are looking to muddy the waters surrounding the upcoming canonisation of a remarkable and heroic Australian woman who would not have stood for abuse at all but who can't be linked by anything more than assumption to the scandal Fairfax have raised in the past week. The history of the order is that many sisters ran to Fr Woods without going first to Mother Mary. I'd suggest reading Fr Gardiner's life of Mary Mackillop.
Molly Roach
7 years 10 months ago
For those who would like to look at documents regarding the excommunication of Mother Mary MacKillop from the time, please follow this link and go to the year 1872.  The first letter from an Australian regional governor begins to tell the story.
Molly Roach
7 years 10 months ago
correcting the link address:
Molly Roach
7 years 10 months ago
It is also worth considering what Mother Mary's integrity as a superior was
in light of the fact that her sisters would report such a situation.  There was
a clear commitment to the welfare of the children whom they served.


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