News Store
Important notice to all NewStore users. The NewsStore service is now free! Please click here for more information. Help

Illawarra Mercury

Off the ropes

Author: JODIE DUFFY
Date: 11/09/2010
Words: 3568
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: Weekender
Page: 6
Even after his death, crusading man of God Maurie Crocker is still fighting for the victims of paedophile priests, writes JODIE DUFFY.

ANYONE WHO KNEW MAURIE CROCKER, maverick priest, commando and boxer, knows that he won't be turning in his grave over a legal challenge to hold the Pope and Holy See accountable for child sexual assaults by members of the clergy.

Although he believed in God, his faith in Catholicism had been shattered long before his untimely death to suicide.

Despite his craggy features and tattoos, Fr Crocker was a true man of God and champion of the underdog. His tough-as-nails approach was appreciated by the marginalised youth in the community who he trained as boxers in the gym he ran behind St Mary's Church at Berkeley.

He was just 12 months away from retirement when, suffering from severe clinical depression, he hung himself above his boxing ring in 1998.

It was widely reported at the time that he had been ostracised by the church. Sent to Coventry for publicly exposing, with the help of the Mercury, two molesters in the clergy - one a priest, the other a brother - five years earlier.

His courageous stand and unwavering support for their six victims was to be the beginning of "the paedophile years" in Wollongong, in which several high-profile men were exposed as sexual abusers of children.

The true extent of clerical abuse worldwide has shocked the Catholic Church with tens of thousands of victims breaking their silence all over Europe and elsewhere, as fresh allegations are made on an almost daily basis.

Australian-born barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC, a former UN judge and human rights lawyer, based in London, is challenging the church's practice of "shielding criminal priests from the law".

Robertson says the Catholic Church has "systematically failed to act on information that members of the clergy were abusing children", choosing instead to protect its image and its molesting priests rather than help victims.

He says the Vatican uses a secret legal system under Canon Law which protects paedophile priests from criminal trial and punishment. As such the Church has "utterly failed to take the basic precautions to prevent children - taught from an early age of seven to revere priests - from being molested".

He says senior churchmen who allowed perpetrators to continue working with children committed the offence of aiding and abetting sex with minors. Practiced on a large scale he argues it becomes a crime against humanity.

Robertson has been engaged by prominent British atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to prepare a legal case against the Holy See. The legal argument has been published in a book titled The Case of the Pope.

Robertson's instructing solicitor in the matter, Jennifer Robinson, is an Australian Rhodes scholar and human rights lawyer. As a child Fr Crocker was her parish priest at St Patrick's in Berry, where she grew up.

Robinson, 29, who now lives in London, went to Bomaderry High and is the granddaughter of legendary horseman Kevin Robinson.

She says she was hesitant to tell her family, who are committed Catholics, that she was helping to prepare a legal argument against the Vatican. She needn't have been concerned as her father Terry encouraged her to include the church's treatment of Fr Crocker in her work.

"For me it was like a homecoming," says Robinson of Fr Crocker.

"Here I am, on the other side of the world, preparing an international case against the Catholic Church and I find a link home in Fr Crocker.

"I was just a girl when he died. I knew everyone was sad, but at the time I didn't know the details. So I wanted him to be included in the the book because as a priest for him to speak out, in breach of Canon Law, was heroic and in doing so he protected many more children from being molested.

"I wanted to do justice to his memory and I'm proud that his case will now be cited around the world in efforts to change Vatican policy to protect children from abuse, since that is exactly what Fr Crocker set out to do."

Geoffrey Robertson also has Illawarra connections, with his grandfather Harry Beattie, a local headmaster and former secretary at the Dapto greyhound racing club. Beattie also lived in Dapto, where Robertson's mother Joy grew up, the same suburb where Vito Gaudiosi now continues to teach young boys to box at Crocker's Gym, named in honour of Fr Crocker.

Robertson says Fr Crocker "was a courageous man and will be well-remembered by the people of Dapto".

The aim of writing the book, says Jennifer Robinson, was not so that the Pope may one day be charged, but that it serves to warn the Catholic Church "that unless it abandons its claims to judge paedophile priests under secret and ineffective canon law, and agrees to hand them over to the police, it should be expelled from its privileged position at the United Nations and be investigated for serious breaches of the Convention on the Rights of Children".

She added the book would also help victims throughout the world, and their solicitors, in formulating cases of compensation against the Vatican.

In his book Robertson writes of Fr Crocker:

"In the city of Wollongong a courageous priest, Father Maurie Crocker, actually 'blew the whistle' on well-connected brother priests who were passing their victims around a paedophile 'ring'. He went to a local newspaper after his superiors had declined to act.

"But after (a) conviction he was ostracised, became depressed and then committed suicide. There is no evidence that any Catholic Church in any country has acted to protect those of its priests who inform on paedophiles, and indeed speaking out is discouraged by Canon Law."

Much later Robertson continues:

"There must be a duty laid on priests, however hard for them to bare, to 'blow the whistle' on those of their brothers whom they learn are taking liberties with children. This does not mean running to the media, although this must remain as a last resort if superiors refuse to act, or are part of the problem or the cover up.

"And - however, hard this may be to accept after colleagues have been prosecuted - there must be a duty to celebrate and succour the whistle-blower. The case of Fr Maurie Crocker, sent to Coventry and left to sink into depression and suicide after he had exposed a vicious clerical paedophile ring should never be permitted to recur."

So what would Fr Crocker think of his name being used in international human rights circles, as an example of how the church treats priests who dare dob in one of their own?

"Maurie would be proud," says his friend Vito Gaudiosi, a former Australian middleweight champion.

"He was always for the victim. No matter how high up it went he was always on the victim's side. He wouldn't care less if it was the Pope. He had no fear. The only thing he ever wanted was justice."

When Fr Crocker walked into the Mercury offices in October, 1993, he told the then editor Peter Cullen that Father Peter Lewis Comensoli and Brother Michael John Evans "had to go" because they were sexually assaulting and harassing boys in their care.

Approaching the media had been his last resort. He'd already been to the Bishop of Wollongong William Murray in 1989 who had shown little reaction upon hearing of the sexual assaults. Unsatisfied, he and the victims then went to police who refused to lay charges due to lack of evidence.

Despite the complaints Evans and Comensoli remained in charge of young people.

"I was horrified that these men should get away with their crimes," Fr Crocker said at the time. "There is one universal trait associated with sex abusers and that is their arrogance. They act as if they are immune to retribution and tragically too often they are. That these men are still in positions of trust and responsibility is a real concern."

Fr Crocker also told the Mercury that the actions of "a few flawed Catholics" would never threaten the whole.

"The vast majority of people who make up the Catholic church - the bishops, priests, brothers and sisters - are decent, Christian, moral people," he said in 1993.

It wasn't until years later, after he was made an outcast by the church and openly criticised by a few of his fellow priests, that he began to question his Catholic faith.

He'd often confide in Gaudiosi: "I believe in God. But what is the Catholic Church really? I think it's a business."

In 1996, a NSW Royal Commission into Police Corruption would use Comensoli and Evans as a case study.

Comensoli was a well-liked parish priest of St Brigid's in Gwynneville, a judicial vicar and third in charge of the diocese. Evans was the former principal of Edmund Rice College and prominent Wollongong figure.

He had a regular spot on a local radio station and wrote a column in the Mercury. He established himself up as champion for wayward youth, setting up a child refuge called Eddy's Place at Mt Keira in 1988.

There was strong evidence Comensoli and Evans were friends and had known each other prior to Evans' transfer to Wollongong.

A year after the Mercury coverage, Comensoli was jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to two charges of sexual assault on two altar boys aged 11 and 17. Two months later Evans killed himself, gassing himself in his Daihatsu Charade.

He had always denied the allegations but the evidence was overwhelming, with rumours of his sexual misconduct dating back to the '70s when he was a teacher at Strathfield's St Patrick's Christian Brothers' College.

Despite the rumours Evans was in fact promoted to headmaster in 1982 by the order when he was transferred to Wollongong.

Questions were raised at the time of his death as to why the Christian Brothers had taken no action against him until 1991.

In that year Brother Julian McDonald, as the new head of the NSW Christian Brothers, decided not to continue Evans' appointment at Edmund Rice College because of escalating rumours about his sexual misconduct.

Br McDonald moved Evans out of the area. At the time the allegations were made public in 1993 Evans was working as project officer for the Coffs Harbour campus of the University of New England.

The NSW Police Royal Commission was told that before his death Evans wrote a letter to Br McDonald. He said that he had been adopted and had himself been a victim of abuse. He added that over the years he had confided to other Brothers that he had problems of a "sexual nature", but that they had encouraged him to stay within the Order.

In 1996 Bishop of Wollongong, William Edward Murray, 76, resigned from his position two weeks before giving evidence at the Commission.

Murray admitted that he had done nothing for six years after first hearing of the sexual allegations from one of Evans' victims who came to see him in the mid 1980s. The young man, who had since become a trainee priest, said he had been violently sexually assaulted by Evans as a child.

Bishop Murray said he had wanted to protect the Catholic Church from scandal and that he did not want the allegations "aired in a way that could not be controlled by the Church".

He also added: "I honestly believed this young man came to me to confide in me as his bishop some very unpleasant experience at the hands of Br Evans, but I didn't consider at all at the time he was making a formal complaint."

However the victim told the Commission that Bishop Murray, at their meeting, had agreed that the information was serious and should be looked into. He said he had left the meeting feeling "reassured that (the Bishop) was going to take care of it".

But Bishop Murray did nothing. He told the Commission he had not confronted Evans and did not seek his removal from Edmund Rice College.

That same year, the trainee priest, after making a complaint to Bishop Murray, also contacted the Christian Brothers head office. Following a telephone conversation a Christian Brothers representative and Brother Bill Hocking, the youth counsellor of Eddy's Place, met with the victim at his home.

The victim alleged the pair acknowledged Brother Evans' problem saying he was in therapy. They further urged him not to go to the police with his complaint. These are claims the Christian Brothers disputed at the time.

In 1992, Br Hocking himself pleaded guilty to the aggravated indecent assault of a boy in his care at Eddy's Place and was sentenced to 150 hours of community service.

On hearing Br Hocking was also a paedophile, the victim, who later abandoned his plans to become a priest, became even more concerned that other young boys may have been abused by Evans.

So too did Fr Crocker and that became his primary motivation behind his decision to go to the press.

For Gaudiosi, finding Fr Crocker's body hanging in the gym on March 26, 1998, was one the darkest moments of his life.

Looking back there were signs. Fr Crocker had recently been released from a Sydney psychiatric hospital. Still severely depressed, he had busied himself in putting his church in order.

On the day he died he left a psalm-like poem on his desk about friendship for his boxing boys. Beside the poem was the stopwatch he always carried with him and his reading glasses.

In Gaudiosi's opinion Fr Crocker would not have killed himself if the Catholic Church had not treated him like a leper.

"I don't blame the local priests or Bishop Murray for Maurie's death," he says.

"He was very depressed and suffered post traumatic stress from his war days. But I do believe that had the church supported him he would still be alive today."

At a clergy retreat, a few months before his death, a fellow priest confronted Fr Crocker: "How could you dob in one of your brothers, how could you do it?" the priest had asked. Fr Crocker's reply was simple and direct: "No paedophile priest is a brother of mine".

For Jennifer Robinson, that one comment from Fr Crocker encapsulates the case against the Pope.

"It's so fitting," she says. "It sums up the whole situation and makes me respect and admire him even more."

FATHER MAURICE ANTHONY CROCKER

Born: New Zealand, September 1, 1937

Died: Berkeley, March 26, 1998

The only child of a strong Catholic family, Crocker was a keen mountain climber and rugby player, but later turned to boxing while studying to become a teacher.

His boxing career included 44 professional fights including 38 wins, four losses and two draws.

He was ordained a Catholic Priest in 1979.

In 1980 his interest in boxing was rekindled at the St Gregory's College Church in Campbelltown.

He was later transferred to the Shoalhaven and then finally to St Mary's Parish at Berkeley, where he trained Vito Gaudiosi and John Bogolin.

In 1989 he told the Bishop of Wollongong William Murray about sexual misconduct allegations against Father Peter Comensoli and Brother Michael Evans. Dissatisfied with his response he and the victims took the allegations to police the following year, but they refused to lay charges against the perpetrators.

In 1993 Fr Crocker turned to the Illawarra Mercury to expose the two child molesters.

In 1994 Comensoli is sent to jail after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual misconduct. Four months later Br Evans commits suicide on the day he is to be charged.

Fr Crocker continued to work on gathering information against three other priests he suspected were child molesters.

THE CASE OF THE POPE: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse by Geoffrey Robertson QC

The Pope must not remain the one man in the world who is above the law. He bears command responsibility for a system which has suffered tens of thousands of young children to be molested and which has acted to harbour many of their abusers.

The widespread and systematic nature of child sex abuse brings the Holy See within the scope of international criminal law and amounts, in principle, to a crime against humanity. The Holy See and the Pope have a duty to ensure that perpetrators are punished and that duty has been breached by imposing Canon Law secrecy and by the trafficking of guilty priests.

The incidence of clerical sexual abuse of children is much higher than previously understood - probably up to 100,000 children have been molested by priests (worldwide) since 1981. Judicial commissions in Ireland reported abuse as "endemic" in Catholic boys schools. In the Melbourne Archdiocese alone 86 offenders have been identified since 1996, including 60 priests who have in total molested 300 children and teenagers.

Canon Law has been allowed to trump criminal law in countries throughout the world. This is a very serious matter ... the Pope through his pretensions to statehood refuses to acknowledge that child sex abuse is a serious crime as well as a sin.

This improper use of Canon Law protects priests from police investigation. The church's law has no public hearings, no DNA test facilities, no enforcement mechanism, and the most severe punishments - excommunication or an order to return to the laity (without entry on a sex offenders' register) - bears no comparison with the sentences of imprisonment or community service that can be expected under criminal law.

Between 1981 to 2005 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) was head of the The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) - the Vatican body responsible for dealing with misconduct by priests.

The CDF, under Cardinal Ratzinger, insisted that all child abuse allegations be dealt with under "pontifical secrecy". This protects guilty priests, allowing them to be dealt with informally by Bishops (by moving them to other parishes or countries).

In 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger directly instructed Bishops to maintain this canonical secrecy and as late as July 2010, now as Pope, he refused to amend Canon Law so as to require Bishops to report guilty priests and monks to police.

The Pope therefore has refused the most important and most achievable reform - insisting on zero tolerance throughout the church and on the reporting of guilty priests to law enforcement authorities.

The main reasons why children succumb so readily to criminal priests is that they are indoctrinated at the early age of seven, by first communion and confession, to perceive priests as agents of God and so they unflinchingly obey their sexual demands. If the Roman Catholic Church is to take child abuse seriously it must raise this age to at least 12.

(From The Case Of The Pope).

BISHOP OF WOLLONGONG PETER INGHAM RESPONDS:

The situation with regard to Fr Maurice Crocker is tragic and deeply regrettable, but it is quite unjustifiable to say that he was "unsupported and ostracised by the church" after he reported allegations of abuse by clergy and Church personnel to the Mercury.

Many people, including priests, did try to support him and the inability of such support to prevent his sad death has to be understood against the background of his depressive illness.

Over recent months the extent of sexual abuse of children and young people by Catholic clergy has shocked communities across the world. Every act of abuse against a child or young person, particularly by a member of the clergy, deserves unequivocal condemnation.

(There is) legitimate anger that such abuse has occurred, and that Church leaders have been slow to address it with justice and transparency. In this, the Church leadership has failed and, as part of that leadership, I am deeply sorry.

I have sought to meet with the victims personally, to listen to them, to sincerely apologise and to offer whatever pastoral support the Diocese is able to provide.

In the 15 years since the Wood Royal Commission the Diocese of Wollongong has learnt much. We have co-operated fully with police investigations and have sought to meet all mandatory reporting obligations.

The Diocese has developed independent and rigorous investigation procedures to respond to allegations of child abuse against clergy and other Diocesan personnel and these procedures are overseen by the Ombudsman. These policies and procedures are detailed in the document Towards Healing.

I hope it offers a level of reassurance that the Diocese is seeking to learn the bitter lessons of the past and to deal justly and sensitively with abuse and its impact on victims, their families and the community. While real progress has been made, more remains to be done.

I strongly urge any person with a complaint of mistreatment of abuse to come forward to the appropriate authorities. If the complaint is of a criminal nature, I ask that the police be notified.

CHRISTIAN BROTHERS' RESPONSE

A spokesperson for the Christian Brothers would not comment on the matter of Br Michael Evans because it happened 20 years ago, adding that the sentiments expressed by NSW Head Brother Julian McDonald at the time still stands. Br McDonald issued no comment in 1993, other than to say he had removed Evans as headmaster in 1991, soon after he took office, because he was concerned about rumours of sexual misconduct. The spokesperson says the Christian Brothers now has a policy of always apologising for matters as they arise.

FOR HELP VICTIMS CAN CONTACT:

Wollongong Local Area Command: 4226 7899

Crime Stoppers NSW: 1800 333 000

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Broken Rites (helps victims of church-related sexual abuse): 03 9457 4999 or via email on brokenritesaustralia@hotmail.com

Catholic Church's Towards Healing Helpline: 1300 369 977

 
Back  Back to Search Results
 

Advertise with Us | Fairfax Digital Privacy Policy | Conditions of Use | Member Agreement
© 2014 Fairfax Digital Australia & New Zealand Ltd.