FOR A society claiming to protect its children, the lack of official reaction to the paltry 18-month jail sentence handed down to a 57-year-old priest for the indecent assault of his foster daughter is nothing short of hypocritical.
We heard nothing from the Church, our politicians, or even the Child Commissioner, who usually has something to say about any articles involving children, even if it’s just all talk.
The priest’s congregation from Ergates even showed up in court this week during sentencing to express their support and were outraged at the “unjust” sentence while the priest’s wife even expressed the wish for the victim to “burn”.
The sentence was close to the upper end of what was available to the court, because the crime took place between 1993 and 2000 when the maximum sentence for indecent assault was two years. But what about those seven years when welfare services were meant to be monitoring the foster family?
Foster families are paid to give children a safe home and a family environment. The priest and his wife were paid for all of the girl’s expenses and were regularly visited by a welfare officer. What happened during those visits? Were there no warning signs, or was the fact the foster dad was a priest enough to put him above any suspicion? What happened to the other children he and his wife have been fostering for more than ten years?
Will the priest – who seems to have the support of a goodly number of his parishioners – despite being found guilty in a court of law – simply return to work after he serves his sentence and carry on from where he left off? How come our Archbishop, who loves a good photo op and spews quotable quotes faster than you can say a Hail Mary, could find nothing to say about this? Will this priest be defrocked?
There is no doubt that welfare officers have a very challenging and sensitive job and have to deal with child abuse cases on a regular basis. It is easy to point the finger, because they only make the news when they get it wrong.
We do not hear about the abuse victims who were successfully placed with loving foster families and receive proper support from the state. But when the services fail to do their job – as happened in this instance – the results are devastating for the victims who have to carry the trauma of having been abused around for the rest of their lives, affecting all future relationships. If you are betrayed as a child by the most respected figure in the community who can you ever trust?
The priest’s victim who was underage when the abuse began, only came forward as an adult. It is certain there are plenty of others out there who never go to the authorities, suffering in silence and too ashamed or afraid to come forward. If welfare needs more resources they should have them.
Abuse of an innocent child is the most heinous of crimes and should be dealt with accordingly.