If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.  John 13:1-20


Perhaps surprisingly for someone with the surname O’Reilly, I’m not Catholic.

My husband, who has a completely different surname, is, however. Our three sons have been baptised Catholics and the older two have been educated in Catholic schools.

I’ve been attending Mass at my sons’ high school for several years now, but I’ve quite never shaken the feeling of being an outsider.

With all the arcane rituals and “Lamb of God’s” and genuflections and standing-ups and kneeling-downs, it’s like I’m in the chorus line of a musical but the only one who doesn’t know the lines and moves.

When the school chaplain gets up to talk, however, that all changes. 

Speaking off the cuff, Father Paul* weaves the lessons of the gospel into the personal, injecting his homilies with intelligence, compassion and some damn funny jokes.

On one occasion he said it was more important to live a “Christian” life than celebrate Mass regularly, which couldn’t help contrasting with the attitude of our local parish priest, who told me my youngest son’s autism did not excuse him from attending church.

My 18 year-old calls Father Paul the “coolest priest”, I call him a true man of God (whatever your version of God may be).

If every priest was like him I might even consider converting.

I recently attended Mass to celebrate the end of the school year. Father Paul chose to open his homily with a reading from John, the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper; a lesson about humility and service.

 Where’s he going with this? I wondered.

Then his features became harder and his voice developed a flinty tone and he brought up the recently announced royal commission into institutional child abuse.

In Father Paul’s words there were many in his church who had forgotten they were there to “serve others”, that they had “severed their relationship with God”, and that “making excuses” for what had happened was “the worst thing of all”.

Fortunately he appears to have some allies in the hierarchy.

Recently, while announcing plans to establish a committee of lay experts to investigate claims of abuse in the Catholic institutions, Sister Annette Cunliffe, the president of Catholic Religious Australia, told the ABC:

“I think, I hope, that we are looking at greater openness and less defensiveness, so that we can open this crime to the light of day to what God would want of truth and honesty.”

The ABC report concluded:  “Sister Annette says it is time for a new era in the Catholic Church where families no longer feel betrayed, and those doing good work for the poor and disadvantaged can hold their heads up high again.”

On November 12th, the day the Prime Minister announced the royal commission, Independent MP Tony Windsor was interviewed on ABC Radio’s AM program. He said:

“…I think that air needs to be cleared, not only for the community and particularly for the victims of child abuse, but also for the churches themselves, that there’s, you know, an odour hanging over them.  And I think if I were a member of the Catholic Church, for instance, I’d be wanting that air cleared very quickly.”


I’m not a person with strong religious convictions, but I know good people when I see them and there are scores of them working in our churches.

We need this Royal Commission first and foremost for the victims, but also to restore the reputations of Father Paul, Sister Annette and the many like them, people who are as disturbed and distressed as the rest of us by the actions of the child sex abusers and their apologists.

*Name has been changed.



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*Benison Anne O’Reilly is a Sydney-based author and blogger. You can follow her on Twitter: @BenisonAnne.




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  • Reply December 10, 2012


    My childhood friend’s lovely long hair was hacked of short in front of the class by a nun for misbehaving. A family priest told a dear friend that he wished he was her baby son so that he could suckle her breast and kept calling around begging to watch her feed. These types of things are common and minor incidents, they won’t be covered by Royal Commission, yet they both adversely affected the lives of these girls. How can anyone put their trust in a church that allows parishoners to be treated in such a shoddy way.

    • Reply December 10, 2012


      Both those incidents are really awful marnie52, but I don’t think it’s a matter of the Church _allowing_ parishoners to be treated that way. I’m sure the Catholic Church has rules and guidelines for how priests should interact with parishioners, it seems to me that the family priest you mention was definitely dodgy and was behaving however he liked. In the case of the nun who cut your classmates hair off, I know that teachers in general had less restrictions on how they could behave to students ‘way back when’, and again it seems that the particular individual you encountered took this to an extreme.

      There are extremists in every walk of life, and incidents like this happen occasionally. Public organisations like the Catholic Church do have structures in place to report complaints, although we have seen how they ignore and cover-up certain types of complaints and behaviour. As Benison says, let’s hope the Royal Commission is able to set stringent guidelines on how complaints should be handled.

      I would hope that both the people you mention were able to move on and live fulfilled lives.

      • Reply December 12, 2012


        if my daughter or son was molested by one of these creatures, he would not be a happy man thereafter.
        The church teaches complacency and I have never seen such complacency in a matter where children are being raped, because that is what it is. For goodness sake isn’t it time that the people who have put their trust in the church stood up and said we won’t take this and walked out?Churches like these are not holy in any sense. If evil exists this is it, taking trust and using it to destroy the lives of innocent children with such violence. I would not be asking for a royal commission, I would vote with my feet and never again would my family or ancestors walk through the doors. Children should not be raped whilst adults stand by and do nothing but talk.

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    The point is that there are good and bad people in all organisations. The Catholic church has let its members down by allowing bad people to do terrible things, and like the article says, ‘sever their relationship with God’ in the most emphatic manner. It then has allowed systems to cover up these crimes and thus help perpetuate them.
    That does not mean the good people in churches do not exist. I have also seen many of these. All power to the Royal Commission, and thank you Benison for reminding us to not through the baby out with the bath water.

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    Benison O'Reilly

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t think anyone’s denying that there are rotten apples in the Church; I’m just trying to balance the ledger and point out the good who also exist within these organisations.

    I feel that there will be less rotten apples in the future, however. The churches will no longer be safe havens for those with nefarious aims, and families will remain less trusting of authority figures.

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    Restorative justice is a grand phrase for what a lot of victims of violence seek from their perpetrators. Namely for violaters to acknowledge and hear the harm and impact of your actions on survivors/victims. The other thing survivors/victims of abuse are concerned with is preventing such abuse happening again.

    The thing about institutions~ which makes them institutions is that they last a very long time. And the hurt and humiliation and harm done by people representing such institutions does too.

    • Reply December 12, 2012

      Benison O'Reilly

      You are no doubt right, Ro, nothing will restore the faith of victims and those close to them. I’m talking more about the general community – I hope, by this ‘cleansing’, that the reputations of the good guys can be restored.

      Another branch of the Catholic Church I have a lot of time for is the Sisters Of Charity Outreach Service. They provide practical support to anyone who needs it and even have women of Muslim faith working as volunteers for them.

  • Reply December 11, 2012


    Yes Benison there are many ‘good people’ out there, and its a shame if just because they are under the umbrella of the Catholic church, that they may not be respected right now, or in the near future. It would be nice to think that this ‘mess’ could be sorted, but I worry that the Royal Commission and other actions in response to these issues, will be enough.

  • Reply December 12, 2012

    Linda Robinson

    I think people have to give the Royal Commission time;already people are saying it won’t be enough and nothing will change!Unfortunately for the victims of abuse it will be too little too late,but surely if it stops even one case it is better to try than ignore it. I acknowledge victims have every right to feel they have been betrayed and agree with them. Not sure what the answer is,just don’t throw out all the good people with the evil ones.

  • Reply December 12, 2012


    Members of the church who know this is happening and do nothing but talk, for how many years has it been now, are just as guilty as the perpetrators. The violent rape these children suffer is a disgrace and all you can do is talk. And that includes you.

    Requiem For A Child

    Your fair game you know, living on the street
    now come over here and kiss me, sweet
    As his hands pored over me
    I tried not to gag
    when I looked at his belly
    which had started to sag

    The fat it tumbled,
    around a tightly buckled belt
    and when I looked up at him
    I could see a nasty welt
    I pictured the belt fastened,
    tight around his neck
    this was killing me
    and I wished I was dead

    His breath, I could smell it for,
    it was foul from last nights beer
    you know you are so beautiful,
    my dear
    he whispered in my ear

    His panting it got louder
    the fat pouring with sweat
    but I kept my mind busy
    and told myself, soon 
    I would pay off the debt

    One day I will be free of this 
    as he shuddered and pulled free
    now get out of my sight you slut
    you can consider that free

    His fist came down upon my head 
    as he kicked me in the shin
    you know you are a slut my girl
    and you have to pay for sin

    I pulled my jumper tightly
    to keep out the cold
    this is no way to live your life
    when your 13 years old

    The passers by they stop and stare
    and walk away
    no time to spare
    I hear one whisper
    in her friends ear
    she should go home,
    get out of here 

    No comfy home
    no-one to care
    no clean sheets and smiles
    no money to spare
    No food to eat
    on the street where I lived
    just screaming and pain 
    and a mothers defeat

    All you do gooders
    I don’t need your sympathy
    unless you can provide the means
    that will  set me free 

    I need no judgements
    formed by your comfortable existence
    nor ignorant 
    about my lack of resistance

    I just need a friend
    to help me 
    out this mire
    to put this nightmare I live
    on hold
    while I wipe away my tears

  • Reply December 12, 2012


    No Ms Robinson, but the good should be screaming out against this mass rape of children surely? Sickening.


  • Reply January 7, 2013

    Linda Robinson

    ameli; i did say i was wholeheartedly behind a royal commission.my comment is that there are some good people being lumped together with the evil ones who did not partake in the coverups. i did NOT make any judgements on anyone who was abused.

  • Reply January 7, 2013


    I would like to believe and if every priest in every church did the same as this good man, I might.

    The nuns – where are their voices? Why do they stay silent? Children were raped. I would have walked out of the church if I had known this was happening. And they would have known. Most of them. When children couldn’t get away with anything?

    I think parishioners would stand beside the catholic clergy if they stood up and denounced what happened and promised to find a new way. As it is they all seem to be cowering behind the vestments of a cardinal. And no one will ever convince me that Pell is a good man. Not in his heart. Good men do not condone evil.

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