Thursday, February 23, 2012

Saint Mary MacKillop Shares Hope with Sex Abuse Victims

Sister Mary MacKillop is Australia's first canonized saint.  Mother Mary MacKillop, co-founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, an order dedicated to the religious instruction of children and care for the poor, is best known for her  extraordinary efforts helping the poor and founding a religious order under tough circumstances, but her experience dealing with sexual abuse is propelling followers to anoint her as the patron saint of sexual abuse victims.   

An documentary which was aired on  Australia's ABC television revealed that a major reason MacKillop was banished in 1871 by Bishop Laurence Sheil of Brisbane -- she was 29 at the time -- was because she denounced the abuse of children by priests.

Sister Mary MacKillop exposed a Catholic priest of sex abuse in a parish in Australia in 1870.  After she revealed that children were being abused by Father Patrick Keating in a nearby parish, she was excommunicated from the church. 

"The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children," Father Paul Gardiner, the official advocate for MacKillop's canonization, says in the documentary.
Gardiner went on to say that when she began to complain loud enough one of the priest being accused of sexual abuse was disciplined.  One of the accused fellow priests became so angry that he swore vengeance upon Mary MacKillop.   The priest, Father Charles Horan, used his influence with Bishop Sheil to have MacKillop excommunicated. 

Humiliated by the accusation, Father Keating took revenge on Sister MacKillop as she was officially excommunicated, banished from the church and denied sacrament, by Bishop Sheil, a friend of Father Keating.  Bishop Sheil would later express regret as we dying and eventually rescinded his order of excommunication.  

Sister MacKillop’s revelation came at a time in the church’s history when church leaders did not want to hear the truth and face the problem of abuse in the church.  As a result, it was easier to punish Sister MacKillop, with contempt and strong opposition that eventually resulted in her excommunication.  Many sisters of this order had become homeless due to this injustice. 

With Sister MacKillop’s recent canonization, victims of sex abuse, their friends and families now can pray to her for reconciliation and healing.  Sister MacKillop has clearly shown an understanding of the pain and suffering they endured.  

The church’s decision to canonize Sister MacKillop shows a great deal of hope and healing for the church and victims of sexual abuse.  The decision also shows the necessity of addressing and preventing the crimes of abuse head on, and the wisdom showed by the church in it’s ability to recognize and atone for its mistakes.   Since the abuse happened in the church it makes her life story connect with victims and helps represent the modern day struggle that leaders are engaged in overcoming and extricating abuse out of the church.

Sister MacKillop inspires us with a life that was heroic, full and holy.  Her story illustrates a remarkable life: she established an Australian religious order, taught children, worked with the poor and lived a holy life.  She stood up for victims of abuse, when the price to pay was so dear, membership to the church that she loved.

There are some in the Church that are not willing to identify her as a patron Saint of Sexual Abuse Victims because they feel that by portraying MacKillop as the protector of abuse victims it would somehow  "reduce the extraordinary richness of her work to a very marginal episode in her life," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Religion News Service. 

"The merits of Mother Mary MacKillop, her commitment to children, to the poor, to indigenous peoples, to the dignity of all human persons, were much more extensive than the fact that she denounced an abuser," Lombardi said.
A statement from MacKillop's order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, confirmed that the documentary's reports are "consistent with" the facts of her life.

Saint Mary MacKillop, Pray for us. 

For more on this story: