Fractured parish critical of church process

Bernadette Cahill speaks to the Archbishop at Sunday’s public meeting.

About 100 members of the Tumut community attended a public meeting with the Archbishop of the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese, Christopher Prowse, and Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey, on Sunday at St Mary’s Hall.

The main topic under discussion was former Tumut parish priest Father Brian Hassett, who was moved to Canberra in 2014 after an internal investigation by Mr Casey into allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving children.

The community was given the opportunity to speak, and to ask questions of the Archbishop and Mr Casey about how the whole affair had been handled.

Those who attended spoke primarily in support of Father Brian, with many sharing personal experiences of his “compassion and love,” and also communicating their feelings of hurt and betrayal – not only that he was moved away from Tumut, but also that the local community had been kept in the dark.

As one speaker said, there are many unknowns, and those who spoke let the Archbishop and Mr Casey know the effect the confusion and lack of transparency surrounding Father Brian’s removal had had both on individuals, and the parish.

One woman spoke in support of the victims, putting forward that one of the main issues surrounding what is being investigated by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is that “children aren’t believed.”

She said, “I’d like to ask each and every one of you, if your son or daughter came to you and said, my space is being invaded, I feel uncomfortable, what would you do? If these girls aren’t believed then will the next children come forward? Will the next?”

However, by far the most common line of communication related to how the Tumut community and Father Brian have been treated by the Archdiocese.

Trina Thomson expressed the opinion of many when she said that there had been a “kangaroo court,” as did Dr Greg Knoblanche when he said “the parish needs explanations.”

The meeting went for over two hours, but the most frequent questions and comments raised were:

• Why was Father Brian moved from Tumut to Canberra when he is not on the sex offender register?
• Why has the Archbishop never apologised to the people of Tumut, when he has apologised to the people of Canberra for placing Father Brian next to a primary school?
• How can the community have confidence in the process with which Father Brian was found guilty?
• Can the independent review which is planned for the decision to place Father Brian next to a primary school when he was moved also review the decision to remove him in the first place?
• Can Father Brian be returned to Tumut, even as a layperson?
• What has the effect been on moving Father Brian again, as a former cancer sufferer in his eighties, on his ill health?
• Could Father Brian be present at a public meeting such as the one that was held on Sunday?
• Has the Archdiocese attempted to correct the descriptions of Father Brian as a “paedophile” and an “ex-priest” that are being used by the media, considering they themselves agree these labels don’t apply?
• One woman said she had asked the Archdiocese for Father Brian’s contact details so that she could ask him to pray for her critically ill brother, and was denied.

However, not everyone was there to speak in support.

Several spoke about Father Brian’s habit of criticising the magisterium (the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Pope) and of criticising the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese.

Meetings have been held in the past about Father Brian’s practice of marrying divorced people, performing burial rites for those who weren’t Catholic, and other controversial practices for traditional Catholics, and it seems those criticisms still hold weight for some who spoke on Sunday.

“Whilst there was a lot of public support for Brian, not everyone supported the way he behaved and the way he was acting,” said Patricia Mangelsdorf.

“I never once heard the magisterium or the Archdiocese commended for the good work that they were doing [by Father Brian]. In fact, many times I heard them run down.”

“I think he was here too long,” said Howard Young.

“It’s fair to say our parish has not always been as one. We have always been divided, and part of the reason for that is that Father Brian ran his own race. He had no time for Canberra, and I think the church has mixed up a lot of these other issues with these allegations.”

Members of the community also praised current parish priest, Father Sijo Jose, for his work in a difficult time.