WYD Coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher has stirred up a hornet's nest with comments criticising people concerned with clerical abuse for "dwelling crankily on old wounds".
The Age reports Bishop Fisher, made the remarks in response to questions about two Melbourne women who were repeatedly raped by priest Kevin O'Donnell when they were pupils at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh from 1988 to 1993.
The case was detailed on ABC's Lateline on Tuesday, but Bishop Fisher told the World Youth Day daily media briefing that he had not seen the program.
"Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying, delighting in, the beauty and goodness of these young people … rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds," he said.
The girls' parents, Anthony and Christine Foster, are flying into Sydney from London to confront Cardinal George Pell before Sunday's papal Mass in Sydney.
Speaking from transit in Tokyo, they said Bishop Fisher's comments were outrageous. "We are still grieving over our daughters, and many other victims are struggling every day," he said. "To think this issue is over when the abuse stops is ridiculous. There are people self-harming, committing suicide, drinking, using drugs, because of sexual assaults committed by Catholic priests."
Christine Foster said she was also deeply hurt. "There are no old wounds for victims," she said. "It is always current."
Emma Foster committed suicide this year, aged 26, after a long battle with drug addiction, while Katherine drank heavily before being left disabled when hit by a drunk driver in 1999.
The family accuses Sydney Archbishop George Pell of stalling their compensation claim.
Bishop Fisher said Cardinal Pell was a compassionate and generous man, but Mr Foster painted another picture. He recalled meeting the cardinal when he was archbishop of Melbourne, being offered $50,000 (the maximum compensation under the Melbourne church protocol) and being told "if you don't like it, take it to court".
The Fosters did, and in 2006 won a "sizeable" payout.
O'Donnell was never tried on the Foster case, but was convicted for other child sex crimes in 1995 and sent to jail. He died after his release in 1997.
Cardinal Pell said yesterday he had apologised to Emma Foster and her family in 1998. "My apology still stands," he said. "I repeat it. It has never been withdrawn. It has been a tragic case in every sense of the word."
Mr Foster said he had no negative feeling towards World Youth Day, but hoped the Pope would show more compassion than Bishop Fisher.
"The Church can't claim to speak with any authority to society about how it should behave when the Church can't behave properly and morally with its own victims," he said.
"We entrusted the Catholic system to look after our daughters and they betrayed us terribly, and continued to betray us by treating us so badly and other victims so badly."Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald reports Bishop Geoffrey Robinson who set up the Church's Towards Healing system for helping sexual abuse victims said Bishop Fisher would be "deeply regretting having said those words by [this] morning … if he actually said them."
"World Youth Day is a wonderful opportunity for young people to feel part of a bigger movement and to meet other young people from around the world, and I wish it well. At the same time, I'm not so keen on the more triumphant aspects of World Youth Day and it can never be divorced from the realities of the revelations of sexual abuse."
A psychologist, Michelle Mulvihill, who ran the St John of God order's Towards Healing program, said Bishop Fisher's comments were typical of "an absolute lack of understanding of the impact [of sexual abuse]" among the Church hierarchy.
Outrage over bishop's abuse remarks (The Age, 17/7/08)
Father's message to church: the wounds are still open (SMH, 18/7/08)
Stop 'dwelling crankily' on sex abuse: bishop (The Age, 17/7/08)