Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Rape victims' father seeks papal audience

The father of two girls who were repeatedly raped by a priest while they were primary school students in Melbourne is on his way to Australia from Britain seeking a personal audience with the Pope.

Anthony Foster's daughters Emma and Katherine were raped by Melbourne priest Father Kevin O'Donnell when they were in primary school.

Earlier this year Emma Foster committed suicide at the age of 26. Katherine developed a heavy drinking habit and was hit by a drunk driver in 1999. She was left physically and mentally disabled and requiring 24-hour care.

Father O'Connell died in prison about 10 years ago.

In 1998 the family rejected the then-Melbourne Archbishop George Pell's offer of compensation, made under his 'Towards Healing' protocols, and spent eight years in a protracted legal battle.

They eventually negotiated a settlement, believed to be the largest compensation pay-out of its kind in Australia. The initial offer of compensation would have been capped at $50,000.

Despite an earlier admission and an apology from Archbishop Pell, during the settlement the Church's lawyers denied that any admissions had been made about the abuse of the two girls.

Mr Foster says he will not accept a papal apology to Australian victims of sexual abuse unless the Pope also moves to change the way those victims are dealt with by the Church and its lawyers.

He believes his daughter would still be alive if the church had have been more supportive.

"In Melbourne, Archbishop Pell put a system in place which he says he is very proud of and he said recently he doesn't know what more he could do," he said.

"There's a lot more he can do. He can beg forgiveness from the victims, he can offer continuing help to the victims and he can just stop fighting the victims in court."

He says the Church must do more than it has so far to help all victims of sexual abuse.

"Emma carried the pain of her abuse for all her life until it ended recently and Christine and I now carry that pain instead of her," he said.

"We really want to make sure that in her name, and for her memory, something is done for all the remaining victims.

"An apology is not enough unless it is backed up with action, unless he removes all obstacles to continuing support for victims."


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