Pope Benedict XVI may have died a month ago, but is reaching beyond the grave to shade Pope Francis, according to The Telegraph.
“In a blistering attack on the state of the Catholic Church under his successor’s papacy, Benedict, who died on Dec 31 at the age of 95, said that the vocational training of the next generation of priests is on the verge of ‘collapse.'”
He also said gay “clubs” operate openly in Catholic seminaries, the institutions that prepare men for the priesthood, and that some bishops allow trainee priests to watch pornographic films as an outlet for their sexual urges.
“Benedict gave instructions that the book, ‘What Christianity Is,’ should be published after his death. It is one of a handful of recent books by conservative Vatican figures which have poured scorn on the decade-old papacy of Francis, who was elected after his predecessor’s historic resignation in 2013,” The Telegraph said.
“The existence of ‘homosexual clubs’ is particularly prevalent in the US, Benedict said in his book, adding: ‘In several seminaries, homosexual clubs operate more or less openly.'”
Benedict also claimed his books were targeted as being “dangerously traditionalist” by more liberal elements in the Church.
“In not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books are considered unworthy for the priesthood. My books are concealed as dangerous literature and are read only in hiding.”
In October, Pope Francis spoke out against church members watching porn, including nuns. “He made the remarks in October, saying that indulging in porn is a danger to the soul and a way of succumbing to the malign influence of ‘the devil.'”
Former Catholic school principal Graeme Sleeman says he still remembers the day George Pell hung up on him.
It was the 1990s and Sleeman was in Grafton, New South Wales, more than 1,500km away from the small Victorian Catholic school he had resigned from in disgust years earlier.
He had given up everything – a lauded, successful career as an educator – to blow the whistle on a notorious paedophile priest, Father Peter Searson, who was abusing children at his school, Doveton Holy Family primary school, in the mid-1980s.
The principal had fought tirelessly to protect his children from the predations of Searson, a paedophile he describes as a “serial offender”, who was known to the diocese for offending in his last parish in Sunbury.
“They knew that he sexually abused children in Sunbury and then he was sent to Doveton,” Sleeman said.
He wrote repeatedly to parish and archdiocese officials, warning them of the priest’s sexual advances towards children and his other violent and disturbing conduct, including carrying a gun around the school.
Sleeman’s pleas for action came to naught.
He resigned and was exiled from the Catholic school system. No one would give him another job. He suspects he was blacklisted for his complaints about Searson.
In the following years, his mental health and his family’s financial security both deteriorated badly.
He began to write to Pell, then the archbishop of Melbourne, explaining how the church had treated him and asking for help.
“Can you imagine the inner turmoil and anguish I had to contend with on a daily basis when I had concrete evidence of immoral and dishonest activities being perpetrated by Father Searson and yet no one from the archbishop down would believe me?” he wrote in one letter to Pell, dated March 1998.
Sleeman, who still receives counselling and now lives in a caravan on a property in Queensland, told Pell he had paid an “immeasurable price for my effort and loyalty, and the past 12 years have been like hell”.
After a series of unreturned correspondence, Sleeman’s phone rang, out of the blue.
It was the archbishop.
“He rang me up and he said ‘what do you want?’,” Sleeman told the Guardian. “I said ‘I want you to make a public statement that the stance I took in Doveton was the correct one, I want you to do that in all the national printed media and all the national television and radio’.”
“He said ‘I can’t do that’ and hung up.”
What Sleeman did not know at the time was that Pell, in his former role as auxiliary bishop for Melbourne in the 1980s, knew of a complaint of sexual impropriety by Searson and did not act to investigate it.
The royal commission heard in March 2016 that Pell and other bishops had been briefed about a generalised allegation of sexual misconduct against Searson in 1989.
Pell told the commission he did not act because he thought the Catholic Education Office had dealt with it.
“I didn’t have a belief that I had an investigator capacity or role,” Pell said at the time. “That was a role which I believed primarily in the schools was taken by the Education Office.”
Pell had also been handed a list of incidents and grievances about Searson in 1989, which included reports Searson had abused animals in front of children and was using children’s toilets.
The commission found that “these matters, in combination with the prior allegation of sexual misconduct, ought to have indicated to Bishop Pell that Father Searson needed to be stood down”.
“It was incumbent on Bishop Pell, as an auxiliary bishop with responsibilities for the welfare of the children in the Catholic community of his region, to take such action as he could to advocate that Father Searson be removed or suspended or, at least, that a thorough investigation be undertaken of the allegations,” the findings, released in 2020, said.
During his evidence to the royal commission, Pell conceded he should have been a “bit more pushy” about Searson.
He also said he had thought Sleeman to be a “rude and a difficult person”, but acknowledged that the former principal had been right about Searson.
“What I now know of course is that Sleeman was basically justified,” he told the royal commission.
Searson died in 2009 before facing any child sex charges.
Sleeman is now suing the church, represented by Ken Cush and Associates. His case alleges his ruined career in education was brought about by the church’s inaction on his legitimate complaints about Searson.
His lost career cost him and his family.
“My whole family has suffered from this, including my grandchildren. My nine-year-old said to me the other day, you’re famous. I thought she was referring to my prowess as a footballer, but she wasn’t.”
Between 1984 and 1986, while Sleeman was principal, he said he complained so many times to parish and diocesan officials that they described him as “obsessed”.
“Well, wouldn’t you be?” he told the Guardian.
Sleeman says he spent 99% of his time at the school trying to protect his children from the paedophile priest.
“I used to say to [church officials], ‘I won’t back down because this is little children’,” he said.
“My contract to be a principal says ‘[protect] the safety of children’ and you put the biggest wolf possible into the school. That’s the crazy part.”
A Vincentian priest in St. Louis was sentenced Jan. 10 to prison and ordered to pay restitution for possessing 6,000 images of child pornography, an act which one victim told the presiding judge was “depressing and sickening.”
Father James T. Beighlie, a 72-year-old retired member of the Congregation of the Mission, Western Province, was ordered to serve five years in jail after pleading guilty Oct. 12, 2022, to two counts of possessing images depicting child sexual abuse. Following the prison term, Father Beighlie will be on supervised release for life.
U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp also ordered Father Beighlie to pay $26,750 in restitution — $4,750 to one of the victims depicted in the child pornography images, and $22,000 toward other victims of crimes involving children.
“It’s depressing and sickening to know that people were looking at images and videos of my online sexual abuse when I was a little girl and that they were getting pleasure from it — my abuse,” wrote one of the victims in a letter to Judge Schelp.
The images were discovered after staff at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis — where Father Beighlie served as associate pastor from July 2019 to May 2021, according to the Vincentians — found what the U.S. Attorney’s Office called “compromising images” of the priest on a church printer.
The parish launched an internal investigation, which spanned four desktop computers, a laptop and a smartphone used by Father Beighlie, who was removed as associate pastor and placed in what the order called “a monitored environment.”
After a private IT company found videos of minors engaging in sex acts, an attorney for the church contacted the FBI, which ultimately brought the case against the priest as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood.
Some 6,000 images of child sexual abuse material were located on one computer, with about 3,000 containing child pornography and 2,992 images of child erotica, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri. One device had 236 images and 40 videos containing child sexual abuse material.
In addition, investigators found two PowerPoint presentations created by Father Beighlie that linked to thousands of the images.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang said in court that Father Beighlie’s “criminal conduct was part of his daily life,” with the priest viewing child sexual abuse material since 2008 and revising the PowerPoint presentations more than 200 times.
A statement from the Vincentians said the order — which has a safe environment accreditation through the Praesidium organization — had encouraged members of the community, particularly those places where Father Beighlie had been assigned — to come forward with any additional information about the case.
The order confirmed to OSV News that in addition to St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Father Beighlie had served at St. Thomas Aquinas/Mercy High School in St. Louis, Vincent Gray Academy in East St. Louis, and at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in House Springs, Missouri.
A spokesman for the congregation also told OSV News that provincial superior Father Patrick McDevitt had notified the Archdiocese of St. Louis about the case. Such notification is required by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in accord with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The spokesman also said there were “no other instances of abuse connected with (Father Beighlie)” aside from those prosecuted in the court case, and that the priest had not committed any in-person acts of abuse against children.
In a Jan. 10 statement released by the order, Father McDevitt said that “while the circumstances surrounding this sentencing are very saddening for us, we respect the judge’s decision and have cooperated with law enforcement throughout the process. Exploitation of children through pornography is a grave sin and has no place in society.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office told OSV News that the priest is currently at the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, operated by the Servants of the Paraclete order.
His prison assignment is expected to be finalized within the next one to three months. Two calls placed by OSV News with the Vianney Renewal Center have not been returned.
Mike McDonnell, communications manager of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), told OSV News that his organization was “glad the wheels of justice have finally moved in this atrocious case.”
At the same, he said, “the biggest glare that we see is how long a career (Father Beighlie) had. Now he is just being sentenced, (but) we are still cautious because we know that this is … a predilection that there is no cure from and no diagnostic tool as well.”
McConnell also said SNAP “would like to know where (Father Beighlie) is going to be under his supervised release. Is that under the Vincentians? And secondly, how come the canonical process to remove him from the priesthood has not begun?”
The Vincentians’ spokesman said he had no information regarding any plans to remove Father Beighlie from the clerical state.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order that operated 48 of Canada’s residential schools, has hired an independent third party to oversee efforts to ensure members who have committed sex crimes do not reoffend.
Some sexual assault survivors have praised the hiring as a positive development — but have also criticized the Oblate’s decision to withhold the monitor’s name.
Tony Charlie, who was sexually assaulted by an Oblate brother during his time at Kuper Island Residential School starting in the mid-1960s, said the hiring of an independent monitor is “a good step.”
He also said it’s impossible to confirm that the monitor is truly independent if the Oblates are unwilling to release the hire’s name.
“We have no clue who this person is,” he said. “It’s very important that these abusers be accountable and visible and probably monitored closely.”
The Oblates hired the monitor in December 2022 and expect he will begin monthly meetings later this month.
The monitor will meet with Oblates who are convicted sex offenders — men who abused children in residential schools, northern Indigenous communities and various parishes across the country.
A CBC investigation in June 2022 confirmed that at least nine such offenders had taken refuge at the Springhurst retirement residence in Ottawa after being released from prison.
“Our concern is to ensure good oversight, appropriate external oversight,” said Ken Thorson, provincial leader of the Oblates.
“[We] want to find the person who we felt was going to provide us with the accountability that we need to ensure that we’re doing what we’re meant to do.”
The monitor will be reporting to a misconduct advisory team that may advise changes to an offending Oblate’s safety plan, if deemed necessary.
Monitor ‘has no connections’ to Oblates: Thorson
When asked why the Oblates aren’t identifying the monitor, Thorson instead described the monitor’s work history, which includes investigating workplace harassment and abuse in organizations ranging from large corporations to social services agencies and Indigenous communities.
Thorson said the monitor “has no connections” to the Oblates, but he refused to identify the person.
“For the sake of the work, for the sake of the people that he’s working with, we’ve chosen at this time not to release the name,” Thorson said.
He added that the Oblates “might be willing” to consider sharing the name of the third party monitor with some survivors to assure them the hire is indeed independent.
Other survivors who spoke to CBC also said they’d like the name to be released.
Leona Huggins, a founding member of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada, was sexually assaulted by an Oblate priest in the 1970s.
Huggins said she is aware of other instances where the Catholic Church has assured people it is making an “arm’s length” hire, but the person has turned out to have close connections to the church.
“Without knowing the name of the person, it’s hard to trust that they can be fully independent,” she said.
Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said survivors of clergy abuse are often promised action, only to be disappointed by a lack of follow-through.
“Survivors who were abused by someone in the Oblates would probably be looking at this with a little bit of hope and a lot of skepticism,” he said.
Thorson said he is “always willing” to be in touch with survivors and has listened to their stories in the past.
“People have suffered — children and vulnerable people have suffered at the hands of Oblates,” he said. “Making amends for the sins of our community is the most important work that I do.”
But for Charlie, those efforts have fallen short.
“Not one of them has stepped forward to help us heal. None of them have checked up on us,” Charlie said. “I really don’t have faith in them right now.”
Pete Fischer was standing in a queue at the supermarket when the call came that turned everything he knew, or thought he knew, about his older brother Jeff on its head.
It was August 2018. The Pope’s visit to Ireland was making international headlines. An Irish man was interviewed on Canadian television about the sexual abuse he’d suffered as a child in Dublin at the hands of a priest called Fr Arthur Carragher, who was later shunted off to Canada.
Jeff Fischer was watching at home in London, Ontario, when a photograph of Carragher flashed on screen and brought suppressed memories flooding back. The first person he told was his brother.
“Jeff always called me, just ‘hey what’s going on?’ We were very close,” remembers Pete. “I said: ‘Hey, what’s going on.’ He said: ‘Do you remember Fr Carragher?’
“I said I remembered the name but… and we kept chit chatting. Then I could hear him start to cry a bit and he said: ‘He abused me.’
“I said: ‘What are you talking about?’”
But Jeff kept crying.
“He’s never been an emotional guy at all. And so I drove down there,” he said.
Jeff Fischer was in his mid-50s when he acknowledged for the first time that he had been sexually abused when he was 10 years old.
His abuser, Fr Arthur Carragher, had been dispatched to his hometown of Guelph, Ontario, from St Mary’s College in Rathmines, Dublin, after a parent complained about his behaviour.
Jeff died of cancer four years later, on October 15, 2022, just weeks before the broadcast of the RTÉ radio documentary Blackrock Boys, in which two brothers disclosed for the first time the sexual abuse at the prestigious private school, before the Spiritans’ public apology and the Government’s promise to hold an inquiry.
But his brother, Pete, a police officer in Ontario, has stepped forward to ensure his brother’s voice is heard. He wants the religious order’s decision to move his brother’s abuser overseas — unleashing him on an unsuspecting parish with such devastating consequences — to be investigated as part of any future inquiry.
“Did they give him a glowing reference, because they knew he was trouble and just to get rid of him? I don’t know… What a way to run things and what a massive path of destruction they left behind them,” he said. “The biggest emotion I feel over all of this is anger.”
The Spiritans — previously known as the Holy Ghost fathers — have recorded allegations of sexual abuse from almost 400 victims over four decades; 90 of those complaints relate to Blackrock College alone.
The complaints are against 78 Spiritan priests, yet only three have been convicted of child abuse.
The Spiritans declined to state how many complaints they have received about Carragher.
He was born in Cullyhanna in Co Armagh in 1922, he was assigned to Nigeria on becoming a priest, then returned to teach at St Mary’s College in Rathmines. He was transferred to Canada in 1971 after a mother’s complaint to the St Mary’s principal that Carragher had abused her two boys.
Carragher was posted to St Joseph’s Parish in Guelph, a city in south-western Ontario and hometown of the Fischer family.
“We were a very devout Catholic family, everything revolved around the church,” said Pete.
“Growing up, it was Catholic school, church on Sunday and many other things. My Dad would help count the collection after Sunday mass. My mom was part of what they call the CWL, they make lunches for funerals and things like that, so she was very, very involved.”
All the Fischer boys served as altar boys at different times. But 10-year-old Jeff was the only one to serve with Fr Arthur Carragher. Years later, he told his brother what Carragher did to him.
“He would always pick Jeff to do funerals. And he would pay him $2 — and back in 1973 when you’re 10 years old, that’s a huge amount of money.
” He would get Jeff to do extra stuff for the funerals and that was when it would happen. It was when everyone was gone.
“At a funeral, they do the thing at the cemetery or whatever, and the church is empty fairly quickly afterwards, it’s not like people hang about. He would lock Jeff in this bathroom, probably go around lock the doors of the church, and then come back and abuse him.”
Jeff told his brother Pete — again, years after the fact — that he had disclosed the abuse to their mother at the time. A devout Catholic, she was so shocked at the suggestion a priest could do this, that she slapped him and accused him of lying.
He told Pete how, after the abuse, he’d have to return to his altar boy duties so “frazzled” that he once left an incense burner still hot with coals on the counter and went back to school.
“Fr Carragher came flying over and just lost his mind. He got Jeff to come to the office, said: ‘You almost burned down the church, how dare you!’ Even though he’d just abused him,” Pete said, incredulous.
The story stuck with Pete. Thinking back to when he had been an altar boy, he had always wondered what caused that burn mark on the counter.
By then, Carragher had moved on to another parish in Canada. He returned to Ireland in 1989 where he was a curate in the archdiocese of Armagh under Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich.
According to his write up in the Spiritan handbook, Carragher “made the decision to retire to Toronto” in 1995. Did Carragher and his superiors know what was coming?
By 2001 gardaí were on his tail. Two brothers accused him of abusing them at their Dublin home in the 1960s. Carragher was charged with seven counts of abuse in 2001.
The priest refused to co-operate with the investigation on health grounds, and he could not be extradited because there was no extradition treaty between both countries then.
When the Sunday World tracked Carragher down to a retirement home in Toronto, Carragher confessed his guilt: “Yes, they are all true. I know the charges are serious, but I’m not able to go back. I’m not well, I’m just not well,” he said.
Carragher remained at large in Canada, effectively a fugitive who refused to account for his crimes against children but still an associate pastor.
In 2007, Mark-Vincent Healy reported to gardaí that he had been sexually abused by Fr Arthur Carragher and Fr Henry Moloney when he was a pupil at St Mary’s College in Rathmines, in Dublin in 1969.
He succeeded in having Moloney prosecuted. But he was told his complaint against Carragher would be considered “malicious” and was led to believe that his was the only complaint.
Fr Arthur Carragher died a free man in Toronto on January 10, 2011.
Mark-Vincent Healy went public and successfully campaigned for a national audit of clerical abuse, which saw the Spiritans amongst the first religious orders to submit to that audit. And he kept investigating Arthur Carragher, tracking his movements from parish to parish, country to country, entrusted with accounts of his abuse from other victims, eventually confirming that Carragher abused 12 children.
In 2018, he secured a letter from the Spiritans, acknowledging that yes, Carragher, a “notorious offender of children”, had sexually abused him as a child.
Mark-Vincent Healy was the Irishman who told Carragher’s story on Canadian television in August 2018 — convinced he had abused there too — and who ultimately stirred the long-repressed memories of abuse in Jeff Fischer.
Pete finished up the shopping that Saturday in August 2018, and drove to his brother’s home. He scrolled the news on Arthur Carragher and showed one story to his brother.
“He just shook from head to toe. I’d never seen anything like that. Trembling and crying, I just held on to him,” he said. “His reaction, still to this day, is something that’s embedded in my mind.”
Jeff had led a successful life — he married and had four adored daughters. A keen sportsman, he founded a business and brand management company, representing elite athletes such as Olympic gold medallist Damian Warner.
He suffered trauma and tried to block it out, said Pete. “He was 59 when he passed, and was in his mid-50s when the lightbulb went on about what had happened to him,” he said.
Realising what had happened to him helped Jeff make sense of other things in his life, such as the lifelong claustrophobia he suffered.
Jeff received an apology for his abuse from the local diocese and his counselling costs — nothing else.
He came to Dublin to meet Mark-Vincent Healy. And he bravely told his own story in 2019, to encourage others to come forward. Two men did.
He would have welcomed the Government’s planned inquiry into abuse in religious schools and would no doubt have engaged with it, according to Pete.
He regards what happened to Jeff as a “betrayal” that warrants further investigation, even if he is no longer here to see it through.
“He would be really happy with this inquiry. Jeff’s biggest thing was the accountability. He didn’t care how much time had passed, or where these priests were, whether they were dead or alive. It’s the accountability.
“He was infuriated with how the Catholic Church handled the whole sex abuse thing — not just his part of it, but in general.
“The way they dealt with it — tried to not comment on it, or quietly brush it aside, in the hope that it goes away — that bothered him.”