Independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s decisions to name and shame alleged rapist Ian Dempsey this week has incited mixed reaction. Some say it was courageous and brave of Mr. Xenophon to use his power of parliamentary privilege to name the man the South Australian Catholic Institution refused to stand down, and others have deemed that it was negligent and an abuse of the privilege.
I my self have dealt with the same angst, not quite sure whether to look at Mr. Xenophon as a type of crusader against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, or whether or not he may have just named an innocent man or indeed hindered in investigations or court proceedings that may yet take place.
The fact the Church was told 4 years ago of the rape that allegedly took place 50 years ago, and no action, aside from councilling, has seemingly been taken it would suggest that the Church’s action has been unsatisfactory.
However many leaders of the Church have stated that they urged alleged victim Anglican Bishop John Hepworth to go to the police with the allegations but he refused, before taking the allegations to the media in the past 3 weeks. I am not about to question the actions of a sexual abuse victim, but you could argue that if the Church urged Bishop Hepworth to go to the police and he refused, then their place in the investigation and inquiry is difficult. Should they stand down a man whom police haven’t had the chance to investigate or should they run their own inquiry, the outcome of which would be scrutinised heavily.
I must admit that my view of this maybe skewed by a somewhat prejudice when talking about the Catholic Church and their inability to deal with sexual abuse amongst their institution. The Catholic Church’s history of covering up, looking over and blind-eyeing sexual abuse across the globe only puts me into a position to support Mr. Xenophon and believe Bishop Hepworth’s allegations.
What has come as a surprise to me however, is the public and media reaction which has followed the allegations.
It seems to me that when it comes to claims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, all of a sudden people are very quick to jump to the defence of the Church and the alleged abuser. People jump up and down spouting innocence before proven guilty and are very cautious and uncomfortable in the naming and shaming of the alleged abuser. This is not to say that this stance isn’t completely acceptable, because it is. Even The Advertiser last week originally decided not to name the alleged because of the lack of investigation by proper authorities.
However this stance is one that only ever seems to be granted members of the Catholic Church. When it comes to football players or politicians the public and media are usually less forgiving.
Take the case of Andrew Lovett, who was sacked from St. Kilda when charged with two counts of rape. Since then Lovett has been found not guilty of all counts, however he will most likely not play AFL football again.
When it’s a footballer, there seems to be an underlying belief that even if they are technically innocent, they must have been participating in behaviour questionable enough to afford the allegations, so the shaming, humiliating and sacking of them is completely appropriate.
If we then take another step further and look at ex-rugby league player and NRL media personality Matthew Johns, we see that by participating in sexual acts that to some may be morally questionable but not illegal, you can still be named, shamed, sacked and dragged through the mud of the national media. Johns participated in group sex with a woman of the legal age, who consented to every part of the incident and who openly bragged about it the next day to work colleagues.
Then later down the line she felt embarrassed, ashamed and uneasy about the night, as most likely many of those who participated did, and went to the media. It did not matter to the public or the media then if Johns was innocent, or at least not guilty of breaking the law, and he was named, shamed and stood down from his position at Channel 9.
So why, when apparently Australian media outlets, public and organisations, love to name people with allegations of sexual abuse, and love to stand them down, do we only stop and think about the repercussions when it comes to the Catholic Church? Is it because the media does not want to upset the Church demographic or because we some how think the people who are part of the Church are inherently good, even though throughout history this notion has been shown not only to be completely inaccurate but dangerous?
The Church was notified about these alleged incidents over 4 years ago, one of the incidents of which Bishop Hepworth received compensation for as the alleged abuser had since died. I understand the Church not wanting to take action until there was some type of due process, and this is made harder by the fact Bishop Hepworth did not want to take the incident to the police. However to not do anything for fear of trying an innocent man is negligent, which is why in the end I have to support Mr. Xenophon’s decision to name priest Ian Dempsey, and to share his opinion that the Church’s actions on the matter were not up to standard.
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