A father who wants to confront the Pope about the rape of his daughters by a Catholic priest has reacted angrily to claims by a senior Australian bishop that he was dwelling crankily on old wounds.
Anthony Foster, who is flying from Britain to Sydney, is demanding that Benedict XVI and Australia’s senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, beg for forgiveness over the repeated rape of his daughters by the priest at a Melbourne primary school between 1988 and 1993.
Mr Foster said that his daughters had been devastated by the attacks. The elder, Emma, committed suicide this year, aged 26. Her younger sister, Katie, who became a heavy drinker, was hit by a car, aged 15, and now needs 24-hour care.
The Pope, who begins his official duties today at World Youth Day celebrations attended by an estimated 225,000 people, has promised to issue an apology this week to young people sexually abused by priests.
But when asked yesterday about an Australian Broadcasting Commission report on the Fosters’ complaints, the Church’s World Youth Day spokesman, Bishop Anthony Fisher, sounded dismissive. He said that he had not seen the report because he had been at the celebrations. “Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying, delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people,” he said, “rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds.”
In an interview with an Australian website at Tokyo airport, Mr Foster rejected the comments and said that they showed “a complete lack of understanding of the victims, that there are so many people out there that really do have open wounds”. His wife, Christine, said that she was also deeply hurt: “There are no old wounds for victims. It is always current.”
The bishop’s comments forced Cardinal Pell — who was Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the attacks — to try to repair the damage by making a public statement in which he said that he had been “very saddened” by Emma’s story.
She had endured “one of the worst things that can happen to a young woman”, he said. Cardinal Pell repeated his earlier apology to the family.
He did not say that he would meet Mr Foster, who insists that he will only accept the pontiff’s planned apology “if the Pope will embrace the notion of begging forgiveness from victims, and supporting them in every way possible and putting the resources of the Church behind that support”.
In his case Mr Foster said that it had taken eight years to win a financial settlement. He said that Cardinal Pell had introduced a system that imposed a A$50,000 (£24,000) cap on compensation. “It wasn’t just,” he said. Others had been offered as little as A$2,000. Emma and Katie’s attacker, Father Kevin O’Donnell, was convicted in 1996 of the abuse of 11 boys and a girl, aged 8 to 14, between 1946 and 1977.