The good old days?

By January 29, 2023Religion, Society

Greg Latemore was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1975 for the Archdiocese of Brisbane and left active ministry in 1980. He was laicised* in 1990. He is now married, lectures part-time at Australian Universities, and was awarded a PhD in human resource management in 20201. He has written a generally excellent piece explaining something he believes has happened to the Catholic Church since his time as a priest. He suggests that the gushing adulation of Cardinal Pell in the Murdoch budgie cage liners is testimony to a different Church. He states “Pell is praised as a martyr for being incarcerated, while the red ribbons that victims and their supporters have placed on the fences around St Mary’s Cathedral are being removed. It’s business as usual – deny, suppress, ignore. Sad and predictable”1.

The Church that Pell and his acolytes are appalled by, is a synodal church, one which has a process that allows bishops to consult with Catholics — from parishioners all the way up to priests — in a spirit of collaboration and openness. It even includes official dialogue with some who actively dissent from church teachings. This process was initiated by Pope Francis in October 20212. The church that Pell and his mob espouse is a hierarchical church; a clerical church. Clericalism is a false and sycophantic esteem for clergy. Pope Francis has decried clericalism as an ‘ugly perversion’, and suggests that it ‘takes root when priests seek comfort instead of the people’, and has insisted that laypersons are not to be looked down upon1. Pell has been outed as the author of an anonymous memo highly critical of Pope Francis whom he accused of being ‘disastrous’3. The memo is all about ‘restoring’ the Church to its traditional past1.

Latemore describes clerics this way: “A cleric expects the best and to be treated as special. A cleric wears the ‘dog’ collar, even on holidays and days off. A cleric enrols for post-graduate studies at University as ‘Father’. A cleric has overseas holidays, has a great wine cellar, dines at expensive restaurants, has the latest electrical appliances in the presbytery, never visits parishioners, doesn’t know them by their first names, and never stays around long enough to talk with them after Mass”. He contrasts them with priests in a synodal church who are pastoral leaders; running youth groups, running clubs and visiting with parishioners1.

Latemore asserts that “When I was a priest (1975-1980), the Church had a credible voice, and priests were respected as pastoral leaders”1. I suggest that this respect was because the faithful lived in ignorance of what was going on. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was instituted by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012, and it found that such abuses had been going on for decades and that it was likely that 7% of Catholic priests in Australia were child abusers. This was despite all the RWNJs in the Murdoch budgie cage liners saying that such a Royal Commission was a waste of time and money, and all part of an anti-Catholic agenda4.

Appalling behaviour such as that uncovered by the Royal Commission has been uncovered in many countries. In 2002, the Boston Globe newspaper revealed that abuse was widespread in the church in Massachusetts5. In 2004, an investigation by the Dallas Morning News showed that there was a system in which Roman Catholic priests were moved after they had been accused of abusing children, even after the Boston Globe revelations. It found that hundreds of priests accused of abuse were moved from country to country, allowing them to start new lives in unsuspecting communities and continue working in church ministries, often with access to children6. In Canada, allegations surfaced of abuse by Christian Brothers in the late 1980s. In Mexico, the revelations were made in the late 1990s, in Argentina in 2009, in Chile in 2018, Colombia in 2021, in India in 2014, in France in 2019, in Germany in 2018, in Ireland in the 1990s, in Poland in 2013, and in the UK in 20137.

When uncovered in most countries, it was clear that the abuse had been happening for a long time. This is also true in Australia. As I have related elsewhere, when I was a teenager in about 1970, a joke went around my home town: Q: What punishment does a priest get if he is caught molesting children? A: Another parish8. The Royal Commission stated that George Pell knew about child abuse in the church going back to 1973. Many of the cases that came to court went back much further than that. James Fletcher’s crimes started in the 1970s9. Michael McArdle’s 1,500 instances of child sexual abuse started in the mid 1960s10. Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes started in the 1950s11. Bertram Addersley’s crimes started in the 1950s12. Edward Dowlan’s (now Bales) crimes started in the mid 1970s13. Francis Cable’s crimes started in 196014.

I suggest that Greg Latemore has a rose-coloured view of the past, and the reason that the good old days of respected priests only appeared to be so, was because the Catholic Church used all of its power to shove as much of this child abuse under the carpet, either by pretending to do something, or discounting the testimony of children. Those days were not the good old days, they were the bad old days when priests could get away with anything.

*Laicised: Having undergone a loss of clerical status. It used to be known as being ‘defrocked’ as it was accompanied by a ritual removal of clerical vestments. The defrocking ritual is no longer practised15




  • Mark Dougall says:

    I don’t wish to suggest that your conclusions are in any way wrong because they are not. My experience as someone brought up in a very Catholic environment for seventeen years was that the priests I knew were generally decent people. I am not aware that any of them at any time treated any person inappropriately. Unfortunately when it comes to Christian Brothers and nuns my experience was different. They were often sadistic, and some were clearly unhinged. There were also lay teachers at the Catholic private schools I attended who were equally sadistic. I was strapped when I was four, I was strapped when I was thirteen, and never by a cleric, a nun or a brother, only by lay teachers. The sadism I saw from the nuns and brothers did not happen to me but to other students, but I will always remember it. It was arbitrary and nasty. I never experienced, or was aware of any sexual abuse from any of these people, although some of the punishments probably had a sexual aspect to them. However elsewhere as we know, appalling sexual abuse did happen. Not just in the catholic church, and not just in churches. I know people who were sexually abused as children, or when they were still quite young, but not in churches. I knew one who killed himself. The scout movement, sporting clubs, work places, public schools, and even within families are all places where abuse happened, as well as churches. I despise religion because it abuses children by making them afraid of things that do not exist and turning them into people who cannot reason. This form of abuse is the real crime of religion.

    • admin says:

      I had a limited exposure to clergy when I was a kid, and that was only ever with my parents at christenings, funerals and weddings. I also went to state schools and remember most of the teachers with fondness. There may have been sadists at some of the schools I attended, but if there were, then I didn’t bump into them. Neither do I know anyone who I know was abused. So, in this regard, I have led a fortunately very sheltered life. One of the things which has intrigued me is how much of this in the Catholic Church is caused by their celibacy rules or whether the Catholic Church attracts people like that. The fact that this sort of thing occurs in the Salvation Army, the Scouts, other churches, and other institutions, tends to make me think it is the latter. Like you, I look upon religious indoctrination of children as child abuse. Hopefully that will decline as religion declines.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    Three glimpses from a downmarket primary school in a grimy northern English industrial city, late 1950s. No sexual abuse. It was all about power and control, but wielded in three different ways.

    Age 8: Class Teacher – Mrs “Fatty” Weightman (isn’t nominative determinism wonderful?). A bawling belligerent bloviator with big biceps. Hit kids’ heads with a thick hymn-book. (It wasn’t even a church school).

    Age 9: Class Teacher – Mr “Pig” Vinsome. An uncaring bullying sadist, not the slightest bit winsome. Belted kids’ arses with a strap until they screamed for mercy.

    Age 10: Class Teacher – Mrs Armstrong (reverse nominative determinism applies, her aging arm was the opposite of strong, and she wouldn’t have thought of raising it to assault a child even if it had been strong). Soft-spoken elderly dame who controlled a class of 40+ unruly boys by behaving like a reasoning human being and thereby inspiring them to be likewise. Somehow, quietly and against all odds, she managed to make us literate and numerate. Bless you, old lady, for teaching us humanity and the needlessness of the violence we’d endured the previous two years. Rest in the same kind of peace you bestowed on us, ma’am.

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