Archive for the ‘Child Sex Abuse’ Category


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Priest Peter Searson in a school staff photograph

CREDIT: via Candace Sutton from news.com.au

HE WAS a paedophile, a psychopath and a thief who despised women, had a fetish for children and a sneering hatred for the locals of the tiny community.

The creepy Father Peter Searson, who wore his yellow fingernails long and manicured, liked dressing up in an army uniform and carried a pistol he sometimes pointed at parishioners.

He stole $40,000 from the parish finances, killed or tortured animals in front of children and showed them a dead body in a coffin.

He got children to touch his penis, made them kneel between his legs, loitered around the children’s toilets and audio-taped primary schoolers in the confessional box when their admissions became “hot”.

Searson was the fifth child-molesting priest sent by the Catholic Church to the working class community of Doveton, 31km southeast of Melbourne.

With his four predecessors — Father Thomas O’Keeffe, Father Wilfred Baker, Father Victor Rubeo and another priest — Searson gave Doveton’s Catholic Holy Family congregation a 35 year period of sexual abuse.

But as letters from desperate locals show, it was Searson that tore Doveton apart.

Within just two years of his appoinment as parish priest, Doveton’s parishioners and parents were so desperate to rid their community of Searson’s vile presence, they mounted a petition to remove him.

Father Peter Searson (above) who wore his yellow fingernails long and manicured, carried a pistol and left a trail of broken lives in his wake.

Father Peter Searson (above) who wore his yellow fingernails long and manicured, carried a pistol and left a trail of broken lives in his wake.Source:Supplied

The Holy Family Church at Doveton where Searson abused children and tore the community apart with his divisive nature. Picture: Google

The Holy Family Church at Doveton where Searson abused children and tore the community apart with his divisive nature. Picture: GoogleSource:Supplied

This parent said she had taught her daughter to treat Father Searson as “Danger stranger” and asked what priest made children kneel between his legs and ask them about undressing. Picture: Royal Commission.

This parent said she had taught her daughter to treat Father Searson as “Danger stranger” and asked what priest made children kneel between his legs and ask them about undressing. Picture: Royal Commission.Source:Supplied

One parent wrote to the church complaining that Searson had criticised mothers who worked and demoralised anyone who did not put $5 or $10 in the church plate weekly. Picture: Royal Commission.

One parent wrote to the church complaining that Searson had criticised mothers who worked and demoralised anyone who did not put $5 or $10 in the church plate weekly. Picture: Royal Commission.Source:Supplied

Dozens of handwritten notes and letters of complaint written to church authorities reveal shocking details of his abuse and Doveton locals’ anguish at his continuing presence.

The letters, tendered in evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse, lay bare a harrowing period in Doveton’s history.

But the letters and the petition were all in vain. Searson remained at Holy Family for 13 years until he was finally ousted for assaulting two boys.

By then, Searson’s sexual abuse and divisive nature had left a trail of broken lives.

Doveton was little more than two decades old when Searson arrived to lead the Holy Family church as its parish priest.

Established in the 1950s, the post World War II suburb was a disadvantaged, low socio-economic public housing estate settled by migrants.

It was on January 21, 1984, that Searson turned up at the church next door to Doveton’s Holy Family Primary School.

He already had a disgraceful record with children and a reputation for hating women.

Complaints about the then 61-year-old stretched back to when he had worked at the St Paul’s School for the Blind at Kew in Melbourne a decade before.

Peter Searson was the fifth paedophile sent to Doveton, following on from Victor Rubeo (right) pictured with one of his victims, Paul Hersbach.

Peter Searson was the fifth paedophile sent to Doveton, following on from Victor Rubeo (right) pictured with one of his victims, Paul Hersbach.Source:Supplied

Paul Hersbach (above) in 2014 after giving evidence at the Royal Commission about how Father Rubeo molested both himself and his father. Picture: Alex Coppel.

Paul Hersbach (above) in 2014 after giving evidence at the Royal Commission about how Father Rubeo molested both himself and his father. Picture: Alex Coppel.Source:News Corp Australia

Originally from Adelaide, and a latecomer to the priesthood, Searson received his first formal complaint of sexual abuse in 1974, 12 years after his ordination in Rome.

By 1978, he had been moved to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the northwestern Melbourne suburb of Sunbury.

Apart from claims of sexual abuse, Searson caused “deep and bitter resentment … and hurt” among parishioners, according to a letter tendered at the royal commission.

Written by his assistant priest at Sunbury, Phil O’Donnell, to the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne in 1982, it describes how Searson’s “utter humiliation of women has to be seen to be believed. He revels in reducing people to tears”.

Father O’Donnell said Searson had driven parishioners away with his open nastiness, had savaged normally “tough” parish nuns, making them cry, and launched bitter recriminations at members of the congregation he did not feel had put enough in the church plate.

A 1983 letter from the principal of St Anne’s Catholic School in Sunbury to the local bishop highlights a shortfall in a church loan.

Letter from parishioners to the Archbishop complaining that Searson had delivered a sermon on pornography

Letter from parishioners to the Archbishop complaining that Searson had delivered a sermon on pornographySource:Supplied

“Made from the school’s Provident Fund in 1978 for a library and resources area, the loan was for $90,000 and the cost shown is only $57,927. I wonder what the balance was used for,” the principal wrote.

The headmaster at the next school Searson was to be transferred to, Graeme Sleeman, would later tell the church hierarchy he had proof that Searson had stolen $40,000 from school funds.

But Mr Sleeman’s pleas fell on deaf ears in the church hierarchy.

Searson’s transfer from Sunbury to Doveton set off a flurry of complaints.

One handwritten letter, from a group of parishioners, expressed their “disgust at the way” Searson had conducted a Mass for children taking their first communion. with a sermon “based on pornography/censorship”.

The litany of grievances about Searson include his abuse of the school’s tuckshop ladies, padlocking the school gates to keep children out, and punishing children if their parents lodged complaints.

Searson allowed his dog, Rex, described by one assistant priest as Searson’s “only friend”, to urinate and defecate around the tuckshop,

Searson had also “pointed a handgun at a couple” of parishioners and was “turning people, especially teenagers and children … away from the church”.

Two years after his arrival in Doveton, parishioners and parents petitioned for his removal, but they were to suffer his abuse for 11 more years. Picture: RC.

Two years after his arrival in Doveton, parishioners and parents petitioned for his removal, but they were to suffer his abuse for 11 more years. Picture: RC.Source:Supplied

Searson had also berated parishioners for not leaving at least $5 to $10 in the church plate because they were “not below the poverty line”.

And “people employed at the school have been threatened by Father with their jobs if they disagree with him”.

Letters between church and school officials note that when Searson was asked about complaints he demanded to know the names of the parents who had reported on him.

TAPING CONFESSIONS

In November 1985, Catholic nun Sister Joan Powell wrote to a church superior to complain that Father Searson was audio taping children’s confessions.

She wrote that Searson had told the Grade Five teacher that, referring to the children’s confessions “when it starts to hot up I’ll start the tape”.

Concerns were raised about Father Searson’s behaviour. Picture: Royal Commission.

Concerns were raised about Father Searson’s behaviour. Picture: Royal Commission.Source:Supplied

In the letter to Father Doyle, Sister Powell wrote: “There is one girl in the Grade 5 class whose parents have already asked that their daughter not go to Fr. Season for confession because she was so upset after Father made her kneel between his knees.

“Two other girls in the class do everything possible to avoid F. Searson as he always cuddles them.”

The letters regarding Searson show the distress parents felt at his insulting snobbery — like the family he told them their house “wasn’t good enough” for a home mass because it didn’t have carpet — to their despair when the church did nothing about his sexual abuse.

Parent’s letter to the Vicar General of the Catholic Church complaining about Searson’s sexual abuse of young girls during reconciliation.

Parent’s letter to the Vicar General of the Catholic Church complaining about Searson’s sexual abuse of young girls during reconciliation.Source:Supplied

Written to the Archbishop, bishops, the Vicar General of the Church, they complain about Searson holding hands with children during confession, and asking young girls is “they looked at themselves when undressing”.

Many letters declare that both teachers and parents had advised children not to go alone to Father Searson’s office.

In July, 1987, schoolteacher Faye Chandley wrote a file note about a pupil who had “asked to leave classroom and speak with me” and had “sat in chair shaking and crying too ashamed to tell about what had happened to her”.

The girl, named Julie Stewart would later give evidence to the Royal Commission about what Searson had done to her as third-grader.

In Faye Chandley’s note, Julie tells her about Searson coercing her with dolls and wanting to “put his penis at the top of her thighs … talked of ejaculation — white stuff came out — wanted her to hold his penis”.

The abuse “went on for a couple of years” and caused problems for Julie at home.

Ms Stewart told the Royal Commission that Searson would force her to sit on his lap during confession and indecently assault her.

“He would say to me: ‘Do you love father?’ And I said ‘yes’. He would ask me to kiss him on the lips. I did,” she told the inquiry.

During her last confession she said Searson lifted her onto his lap and pushed her against his erect penis.

Note by teacher Faye Chandley about Julie Stewart confessing that Searson had sexually molested her during confession.

Note by teacher Faye Chandley about Julie Stewart confessing that Searson had sexually molested her during confession.Source:Supplied

Julie Stewart was molested as a nine-year-old by Father Searson told her ‘the Lord forgives you’. Picture: ABC TV.

Julie Stewart was molested as a nine-year-old by Father Searson told her ‘the Lord forgives you’. Picture: ABC TV.Source:ABC

List of grievances by teachers and parents against Father Peter Searson when he worked at Holy Family Catholic Church in Doveton. Picture: Royal Commission.

List of grievances by teachers and parents against Father Peter Searson when he worked at Holy Family Catholic Church in Doveton. Picture: Royal Commission.Source:Supplied

“He whispered in my ear: ‘You are a good girl. The Lord forgives you’.”

The nine-year-old snapped and ran screaming out of the confessional and was taken to the principal, Graeme Sleeman’s office.

Mr Sleeman, who also gave evidence at the inquiry, told how he resigned his post in 1986 at the school because of the abuse.

Parents launched a petition to get him back and to try and oust Searson, but nothing happened.

Searson would also belittle parents born abroad whose English was not up to his standard.

He also regularly made statements in his homilies saying that children whose mothers didn’t work should feel loved, while those who had working mothers must “feel unwanted”.

Despite the torrent of letters to Catholic leaders in Victoria, Searson endured at Doveton until March 14, 1997.

He was removed for an accusation of physical rather than sexual assault against boys.

Ms Stewart attempted suicide as a teenager, and received a $25,000 payment from the church which she said just “retraumatised” her.

The church paid a total of $291,000 to three of Searson’s victims via the Melbourne Response program.

Peter Searson died in 2009 before facing any child sex charges. One bishop and 15 priests paid their respects at his funeral in Melbourne.

The letters from parents and teachers about Searson are available on the Royal Commission’s web page.

If you or anyone you know need any help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

A parent’s letter complaining about Searson pointing his pistol at young boys in the church. Picture: RC.

A parent’s letter complaining about Searson pointing his pistol at young boys in the church. Picture: RC.Source:Supplied

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When the “Family Values” Agenda Includes Child Sex Abuse

This is crossposted from Eyes Right, the blog of Political Research Associates, where I will be doing a series of posts on the Christian Right and child sex abuse. — FC

The exposure of widespread sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy–and of the subsequent cover-ups by church leaders–has rocked the Catholic church for more than a decade. Less well known, though closely analogous, is the issue of widespread abuse within Protestant evangelical churches.  Such stories raise doubt that the evangelical/Catholic alliance that defines the contemporary Christian Right is, in any legitimate sense, a defender of “family values.”

Boz Tchividjian rattled the evangelical world in 2013, when he declared that the problem of child sex abuse in evangelicalism is “worse” than the problem in the Roman Catholic Church. The grandson of Billy Graham, a former child sex crimes prosecutor for the state of Florida, and now a law professor at Liberty University, Tchividjian has both the public profile to hold an audience, and the professional experience to back up his assertions.Tchividjian is not the only prominent evangelical speaking out. “Catholic and Baptist leaders have more similarities than differences on the child-abuse front,” wrote Robert Parnham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Both have harmed church members and the Christian witness by not swiftly addressing predatory clergy and designing reliable protective systems.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which currently claims 15.9 million members in 46,000 churches in the U.S., has acknowledged the problem of child sex abuse within member churches. Still, too many Baptist leaders–like their Catholic counterparts–have responded to the problem with denials, inattention, and cover-ups. Indeed, Rev. Peter Lumpkins of Georgia called for the SBC’s governing body to adopt “a zero-tolerance policy toward the sexual abuse of children in churches,” but now thinks church officials are ignoring his 2013 resolution.

As just one example, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), SBC’s public policy arm, is holding an April “summit” in Nashville on “The Gospel and Human Sexuality.” Yet the program fails to include anything about child sex abuse. “From broken marriages to pornography to homosexuality, sexual confusion and sexual brokenness has ravaged our culture and can deteriorate the integrity of our churches,” the published program declares.  It assures prospective conferees that they can “discover” how their “church and local congregations can be a beacon of hope, clarity, and restoration as the gospel is brought to bear on human sexuality.”

Adding insult to injury, Rev. Greg Belser, a man who epitomizes the problem in the SBC, is not only a member of the ERLC’s “leadership council,” but also a panelist at the sex summit.  The Senior Pastor at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi, Belser also happens to be at the center of a major, ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal.  In other words, the ERLC–the SBC body with delegated responsibility for addressing sex abuse within churches–features as a leader someone who himself is deeply entangled in a cover-up of abuse.

Christa Brown, a leading advocate for reform in the SBC, contemplated the wider issue last year by drawing upon a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “True evil lies not in the depraved act of the one, but in the silence of the many.” Indeed, the “silence of the many” helped facilitate the criminal career of John Langworthy, a youth music minister at Belser’s Morrison Heights church and a serial child molester. When allegations surfaced that Langworthy may have molested at least one boy, leaders at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas (one of the largest in the SBC), including the Senior Pastor (and future SBC President) Jack Graham, took the allegations seriously enough to fire Langworthy in 1989. Yet they did not report him to the police, although state law at the time required it.

Amy Smith, an advocate with SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), tried for more than two years to alert Morrison Heights Baptist Church leaders and Mississippi officials about Langworthy before Morrison Heights (the church where Langworthy had worked for two decades) finally conducted an internal investigation in 2011. Belser initially decided to keep Langworthy on staff but later allowed him to resign and to make a highly limited confession to the congregation about his “sexual indiscretions with younger males” in Texas–acts Langworthy described as “ungodly.” After Langworthy’s statement, Belser claimed that church officials had made “a biblical response” in the matter.

After Langworthy’s confession surfaced online, police launched an investigation.  As the Associated Baptist Press reported, “Six men came forward claiming they were sexually abused by Langworthy as children in the early 1980s.”  But Morrison Heights refused to turn over the findings of their internal investigation to police or prosecutors, apparently following the legal advice of Phillip Gunn, a Morrison Heights elder and a state representative.

That was in 2011.

Langworthy went on to plead guilty to five felonies committed against boys at two Mississippi Baptist churches prior to his time at Prestonwood and Morrison Heights. Thanks to a plea deal, he did no time. Meanwhile, Gunn was elected Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2012 (the first Republican since Reconstruction) and was also elected Trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Graham, who served two terms as President of the SBC in 2003 and 2004, remains the Senior Pastor at Prestonwood and is fending off questions about his role in the Langworthy affair. Belser remains Senior Pastor at Morrison Heights.

Christa Brown, writing at StopBaptistPredators, suggests that SBC leaders have not created mechanisms for disciplining those who “cover-up for the unspeakable crimes of their colleagues,” either because they are afraid or because they just don’t care. She also observes that there is no denominational process for assessing clergy abuse reports, keeping records of ministerial abuses, or providing a way to inform congregations about accused ministers.

“One of the best ways to protect children in the future,” Brown concludes, “is to hear the voices of those who are attempting to tell about abuse in the past. Those voices almost always carry ugly, hard truths – truths about not only the preacher-predators but also about the many others who turned a blind eye or who were complicit in covering up for clergy child molestations.”

The “silence of the many” certainly includes those who, while claiming to uphold “family values,” remain unusually quiet in the face of crimes against children.  Even more egregious is that such abuse is occurring in the care of the churches they claim best represent these values. The story of this silence may well be the one for which they are most remembered.


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