THE chairman of a national council of Catholic priests has revealed how he worked and lived with priests later convicted of child abuse who had kept their dark perversions secret from other clergy.
Father Eugene McKinnon, who was raised and served in the south-west, said the offenders had kept that part of their lives hidden until confronted by outside authorities.
“I knew three of the paedophile priests,” he said.
“I lived in the same parish presbytery with a bloke who was later jailed, but I didn’t pick up on what he was doing.
“You could eat and talk with him and you never knew there was another part of his life.
“There were others I found later had done other things that were inappropriate.
“Now we are doing what we can to face the pain of the past — to say we are doing nothing is false.”
Father McKinnon, now of Donald parish, heads the Australian National Council of Priests which held its annual conference in Warrnambool several months ago.
He welcomed the forthcoming federal inquiry into child sex abuse and said he hoped it would bring healing to victims who include south-west residents.
“We will be open and frank and we are trying as much as we can to make sure these abuses don’t happen again,” he said.
While acknowledging the actions of a few had caused long-lasting anguish, he defended the church’s new policy aimed at holding clergy more accountable.
He doubted if priests would be willing to break their vow of confessional silence, but was confident there was now a determination to counsel the penitent and encourage them to take responsibilities for their actions.
“The majority of Australian Catholics don’t go to confessionals nowadays and certainly not paedophiles because they think they are doing no harm.
“It would be extremely unlikely they would admit it to a priest. Part of the sickness is they think they are not doing any harm.
“There has to be some external arresting point in their lives to make them stop.”
Father McKinnon said the seal of confessional issue has been blown out of proportion recently in the media.
“I’d like to think gone are the days when you were just handed out a prayer in the confessional and told to go your way,” he said.
“As it stands I’m bound by the bond of confessional secret. But if someone came in with something big, I’m not going to say go in peace and do nothing. I might advise them to see me outside the confessional where we can talk about it.”
Father McKinnon said he understood there were about 600 cases of sexual abuses involving priests, brothers, nuns and school teachers, but about 400 of these were attributed to six serial offenders.
Others had not re-offended since 1976, he said.
“We have a process in place now called Towards Healing which sets out how the church is trying to redress wrongs of the past and has processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“I don’t think any other organisation has gone this far down the line to address child sexual abuse.
“If you look at society in general the Catholic Church is not the only organisation where paedophiles have been active.”