This one made me very angry. Consider the following. Was I wrong to be angry?
On Monday night, ABC Four Corners ran the following story - Unholy Silence. You will find the transcript and video here. I was interested if depressed because this was a very local story from my home area. On Wednesday, 4 July, the Armidale Express carried this story by Janene Carey Disgraced priest lives comfortably among us. The story began:
A SHOCKING exposé aired by the ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night dropped a prominent Armidale resident into the spotlight of allegations about a child sexual abuse cover-up within the Catholic Church.
The man, a former priest who was defrocked in 2005, was called “Father F” throughout the program due to a court order from 1987 that prevents the media from revealing his name, and was shown on the streets of Armidale with his face pixelated.
Although allegations have been repeatedly raised that Father F molested altar boys in Moree and Parramatta during the 1980s, he has never been formally convicted.
It ended with this statement:
Ms Mary Ann Jolley
ABC 4 Corners
Dear Mary Ann,
Your email of the 14th June mentions the tragic case of Mr Damian Jurd. Whilst I have only recently become Bishop of the Diocese, I have been made aware of his plight. I offer my deepest sympathies to his family and friends.
As far as I can ascertain, the Diocesan Authorities became aware of alleged incidents of abuse by (‘Father F’) on the 13th August 1987 when he was arrested. He was immediately stood down from all public ministry. The Church paid for his legal fees since every person accused of a crime is entitled to a defence.
(‘Father F’) was later permitted to undertake ministry in the Parramatta Diocese since the charges against him were dismissed and since a Clinical Psychologist’s 1998 report indicated that he did not present any problem to children.
I have no knowledge of any sessions between (‘Father F’) and Rex Brown as you mention.
(‘Father F’) last worked as a priest in 1992 when on the 1st of July his priestly faculties were removed by the then Bishop of Armidale and he was forbidden from any undertaking any public ministry. The diocese took this course of action because, although the charges against him were dismissed, there were continued rumours about him. Subsequently the Church’s Special Issues Resource Group (forerunner to Towards Healing) formed the opinion that he should not undertake public ministry due to these continued rumours.
(‘Father F’) was formally laicised on the 18th November 2005 and no longer has any priestly status in the Church.
Most Reverend Michael Kennedy
Bishop of Armidale
On Wednesday evening, the Armidale Express issued the following statement on its Facebook page headed Clarification:
"The Armidale Express would like to make it clear that the person identified as ‘Father F’ in the story "Disgraced priest lives comfortably among us", published on Wednesday July 4, has never been employed as a journalist or in any other capacity by this newspaper, its sister paper, The Armidale Extra, or by our parent company, Fairfax Media.
In the past, Father F has occasionally contributed unpaid articles to the Armidale Express, however, the paper’s management decided to cease accepting Father F's copy in April 2012 after being informed about his background.
Although the ABC Four Corner's program about Father F showed our office and stated that he was a "regular contributor to local newspapers and employed to enter family homes gathering information for a survey funded by the Federal Government", in fact he is a regular columnist for another Armidale newspaper.
Father F's contributions to us were ad-hoc and dealt with historical subjects, and at no time was he ever requested by us to enter people's homes to gather information.
The Armidale Express, The Armidale Extra and Fairfax Media have no on-going relationship with Father F in any capacity."
I saw the clarification as it was posted and responded with an angry comment. Let me explain why.
The question of Father F's guilt or innocence nor the crimes he allegedly committed were not the reason for my response. Rather, it was anger at the Express itself.
Leaving aside the way the clarification identified Father F, to my mind it was disingenuous even hypocritical. I quote: "Father F has occasionally contributed unpaid articles the the Armidale Express." If Father F is the person that seems to be implied by all the comments, the Express welcomed his contributions and ran them every week. And why not? To my knowledge, the then editor knew nothing of the matters revealed on the Four Corners story, nor did others connected with the paper including myself. I was a weekly columnist on the Express for a number of years. Father F wrote quite well on historical topics of local interest.
Continuing, and again I quote: "In fact he is a regular correspondent for another Armidale newspaper." I wonder what the fact that Father F wrote a column for the Armidale Independent - a fierce competitor - has to do with anything except to demonstrate a holier than thou attitude.
The reference to "unpaid articles" made me smile. It adds to the vision of a local scribbler carried in the paper as an act of grace and favour. In fact, the Express paid none of its regular contributors including yours truly, and I contributed over 150 weekly columns!
To quote further: "the paper’s management decided to cease accepting Father F's copy in April 2012 after being informed about his background." Really? So in April Armidale's main media outlet took the allegations about Father F sufficiently seriously to stop accepting his contributions.
I fully accept that local newspapers can face difficult choices when it comes to dealing with allegations about locals. Yet surely it is a little odd that a newspaper should wish to claim in its defence that they stopped dealing with a contributor having been informed of his background two months before the story broke nationally? And then the focus of their coverage is on, and I quote: "A SHOCKING exposé aired by the ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night dropped a prominent Armidale resident into the spotlight of allegations about a child sexual abuse cover-up within the Catholic Church."
In my response on Facebook, I described the Express clarification as mealy mouthed. It struck me as back-protection that would have made any of our politicians proud Was I wrong? I'm still cranky.
Just in case I was being unbalanced, I watched the whole Four Corners program again. It's not pleasant viewing. The paper's concern is something I hadn't actually noticed the first time, the juxtaposition of a piece of commentary with a picture of the Express window. I think that I stand by my comments.
Tonight's ABC 7.30 Report has just reported on the matter. You will find the transcript and video here, at least for the moment. It made me really uncomfortable because we are now dealing by trial by media. You will get a more balance picture if you look at the comments on this on both side.
Armidale is a small gold fish bowl. This matter has to go to a full police investigation for the sakes of all those involved.
In a comment tonight on the discussion thread on this post, I wrote:
"First of all, a heartfelt thanks to all of you for your courtesy in discussing this difficult topic. You have educated me.
After coming home tonight, I did some more web searches triggered by comments including that relating to the Broken Rights, Janene's latest story and kvd's comments. For reasons that I will explain properly in a postscript on the main story, I am withdrawing from coverage of this matter for the present. However, I will leave the comment thread open.
I am not quite sure how to number all the anons! However, one informed anon commented, and I quote, "Jim, if you read the witness statements, court transcripts, spoke to families involved, etc, I don't think you would remain so impartial." I did not read this as a criticism, rather an objective observation.
I am not opposed to use this blog for campaigning purposes, but when reporting or examining issues of principle, my value add lies in impartiality, in my ability to delineate issues. This holds even when I am angry as I was with the Express. I asked readers for their judgments as a consequence.
As a part time blogger in a fast moving case like this one, I am not equipped to report in a conventional sense. I am not a newspaper. Further, some of the reporting that I might do even just providing links to past stories, is likely to threaten the chances of a fair trial.
As was noted, there is a difference between revenge and justice. If justice cannot be obtained by any other means, then there is a case for the use of direct action or the media to redress the balance. But there is also a question of balance.
Consider kvd's report on Mr Hadley. Does anybody believe that this (Mr Hadley's actions) will aid justice? To my mind, it is far more likely to have the opposite effect by impeding the chances of a fair trial, indeed even increasing the chances of a dismissal of any charges.
As I said, I will try to outline my views in a little more detail in a postscript on the main post."
I meant very sincerely what I said about my commenters. I stuck my head above the parapet on a sensitive issue, and the whole thing could have collapsed in a flame fight of type that we have seen too often before in the blogosphere. It did not. Instead, I gained a greater understanding.
I have grouped the comments that follow under headings to make it easier to understand the differing issues as I see them.
The Catholic Church
The Armidale Diocese has announced an inquiry into the matter and rightly so. Leave aside broader issues including legal questions, we appear to be dealing with a failure in due process in the previous investigation. This demanded impartial investigation as well as natural justice on both sides. I may be wrong, but an objective inquiry is required to determine the facts. This includes natural justice for Father F.
Failures in Legal Process
I am very careful in this area because I lack facts and do not have time to do the proper analysis. Have there been failures in general legal process in handling this matter?
Use of the Media to seek Justice
Are people entitled to use the media to seek justice denied through the courts or other systems? I would have thought clearly yes. That right is central to a free society. Note I said justice. More on that in a moment.
Role of Armidale's newspapers
This was actually my entry point, my anger at the Express clarification. Based on my commenters, I haven't validated the claims, the facts appear to be these:
- The allegations about Father F including some evidentiary material, were supplied to Damian Jurd and Daniel Powell when Christian Knight was Express editor. Armidale Independent Editor Joanna Harrison was informed at least twelve months ago. The allegations were also supplied to Matt Taylor, the Express editor who replaced Christian Knight.
- The papers continued to run material from Father F for a period, although according to the Express clarification, the paper dropped Father F when the paper was informed of the allegations in April. By contrast, the Independent continued to use his material. Neither paper launched any form of news investigation.
Subject to one qualification that I will come to in a moment, my sympathies are with the papers on this one. It's very hard being a local paper in a gold fish bowl. All sorts of allegations cross your desk about locals. That's the nature of local life. Further, the presumption of innocence has to hold, while journalist resources are limited. So you make judgements.
My qualification is the Express.
The clarification said, and this was one of the things that got me angry, "the paper’s management decided to cease accepting Father F's copy in April 2012 after being informed about his background." It seems to me, and maybe I am being too simplistic, that if the Express took the allegations sufficiently seriously to stop publishing Father F because they had been informed of his background, then they actually did have a duty to investigate them from a journalistic viewpoint.
A Question of Justice
Once the story broke, once it became clear that investigations were underway, the whole game changed. At least it did if you are interested in justice rather than revenge.
Whatever the results of any investigations or court cases, this whole thing has destroyed Father F in that one area in which he has rebuilt his life, his role as a local historian in the community that he loves and identifies with, that is central to his sense of self. Now maybe that's fair, although fairness in that sense is arguably linked to revenge rather than justice. Consider only justice. That's two edged, justice to both sides.
The media feeding frenzy since the Four Corners story has gravely damaged Father F's chances of getting any form of fair trial should a trial result. Let me quote from a comment by kvd:
Just to note that driving around today, flicking radio stations, I listened to 2GB's Ray Hadley read - in full - that record of meeting which was published yesterday. He'd apparently had legal advice, so instead of "Father F" he was using (repeatedly) the name of the fellow.
He completed his recitation with the note that he was not at liberty to take either calls, or emails/texts on the subject - but the name was mentioned probably a dozen times.
Just mentioning it for the record.
Now with that type of coverage, how does Father F get a fair trial?