News

Claims MacKillop Excommunicated For Reporting Sexual Abuse Untrue

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
7 Oct 2010

Fr Paul Gardiner

Fr Paul Gardiner has sharply criticised the ABC's television network for citing him as the source of a inaccurate report claiming Mary MacKillop was excommunicated from the Church for reporting sexual abuse by a priest.

"I never said it; it's just false," said the 87-year-old who was Postulator for the Cause of Mary MacKillop for 25 years until his retirement in 2008. Much of this time was spent in Rome where he scoured the Vatican's archives, researching letters and documents from the Nineteenth Century and the Catholic Church in Australia.

Considered the leading authority on Australia's first saint, Fr Gardiner is also the author of the definitive book of her life and vocation. "Mary MacKillop: An Extraordinary Australian."

Regarded as the foremost authority on Australia's saint in waiting, Fr Gardiner now lives in Penola, SA where he serves as priest at the historic St Joseph's Church and as chaplain to the nearby Mary MacKillop Penola Centre.

Interviewed for a program produced by Compass for the ABC on Mary MacKillop, which is due to air this Sunday at 10.15 pm, he believes the advance publicity for the program was misleading and gave the mainstream media a chance to take yet another swipe at the Church and distract the public during the lead up to the canonisation in Rome in 10 days' time.

Angrily denying he ever said Mary MacKillop had been excommunicated as revenge for exposing Fr Keating from the Kapunda Parish and his abuse of local children, Fr Gardiner believes his words have been distorted and taken out of context.

 "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," he said on the eve of his flight to Rome where he will join the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell as a concelebrant at the Canonisation Mass  to be conducted by Pope Benedict XVI at St Peter's Basilica on Sunday, 17 October.

The original report claiming Mary MacKillop was expelled from the Church as revenge for having reported Fr Keating's sexual abuse to the Vicar-General of the time made headlines not only in Australia but worldwide, and while a producer of Compass has denied the episode, Mary, Saints and Miracles made such claims, the advance publicity for the episode is an odds with this denial.

According to Fr Gardiner in the program there was a long chain of causation, but he said somehow or other somebody at the ABC typed it (the publicity material) up as if he had said that Mary MacKillop was the one who reported the sexual abuse and had been excommunicated as a result.

"Early in 1870 when the scandal occurred and the Sisters of St Joseph reported it to Fr Tenison Woods, Mary was in Queensland," Fr Paul said.

But this was not made clear or even mentioned when the ABC came out with a story headlined:  MacKillop Banished After Uncovering Sex Abuse on its online news as well as radio and television on September 25.
From this original report in September, similar lurid headlines linking Mary MacKillop with sex abuse by a priest were picked up not only by Australia's mainstream radio and television and national and regional newspapers but by the overseas media as well.

The power of these reports even had one American priest suggesting Mary MacKillop be made Patron Saint of Abuse Victims on the influential Huffington Post website, which has a readership in the millions.
But according to Fr Gardiner it was not Mary who reported the abuse to the Vicar General but Fr Julian Tenison Woods, co founder with her of the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and the person with whom she established her first school in Penola.
 
The reasons for Mary MacKillop's excommunication, which was rescinded less than 18 months later, have always been given as insubordination and disobedience, due in a large part to her determination that the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph would not be under the control of a local Bishop but have the freedom and autonomy to work across all states in Australia.

The fact she was a woman and also came from a Scottish background rather than Ireland, in a Church then dominated by Irish clergy, was also another reason.

"There were several factors that led to this painful period for Mary and the sisters," a statement from the Sisters of St Joseph announced earlier this month.

It is likely that revenge against the Order of the Sisters of St Joseph that Fr Woods and Mary co-founded helped contribute to the false charges laid against her which had her thrown out of the Church. But to describe the reason for the excommunication by Bishop Sheil as a result of Mary reporting a priest for the sexual abuse of children is not only inaccurate but wrong.