On Tuesday the 21st September 2021, in the second week of the orientation programme for new missionaries the morning session started with a viewing of a documentary that Fr. Hugh O’Connor, the Secretary General of SACBC, said will be gut-wrenching for some. Since it was a session about protocol and professional conduct in the SACBC the participants were made to first watch a 2006 documentary titled “Deliver us from evil”, not to be confused with the 2014 “Deliver us from evil” about exorcism.
Lionsgate, the company that presents the documentary describes is as follows: “Moving and timely, DELIVER US FROM EVIL is a chilling portrait of Irish priest Father Oliver O’Grady, perhaps the most notorious paedophile in the history of the modern Catholic Church. A puzzling and complex personality, O’Grady used his charm and authority to befriend and then violate dozens of faithful Catholic families across Northern California for over two decades. His victims ranged from a nine-month-old infant to the middle-aged mother of another adolescent victim.”
There evidently was a lot to discuss since a discussion in twos which was meant to take five minutes turned into more than fifteen minutes on non-stop exchanges.
Returning to share in a bigger group Fr. Hugh acknowledged that it is not a topic people easily engage in the Church. His most moving part was the part of the father of one of the victims who was totally destroyed at having allowed the abusive priest to come into his family and do what he did. “He failed, in his mind, to protect his family”, said Fr. O’Connor, to a point where that father believes there is no God.
Some participants said that evidently there’s a lot of hurt and pain in the lives of the victims and their families and noted that families who have trusted the priest felt really betrayed. They expressed their sadness in that people take advantage of the trust people have in them and abuse it. Another observation was that it is evident that people are still struggling with the impact that abuse had on them. The saddest thing for them was that the abuser did not even seem to be remorseful and the shocking fact that among the victims of this priest was a nine months old baby. That prompted some to say that this priest was really sick in his head.
The failure on the part on the authority of the Church was also brought to light. They felt if the Church authorities had stopped the abuser from the beginning a lot of people would have been saved. Some participants did not hide the fact that they feel angry because the bishops knew what was happening and kept on moving the abuser from one place to another.
An element of formation also come up a few times where it was also shared that even in some seminaries there is some level of cover-up and when these people protected become priests and bishops they will continue the abuse. It was stressed that there is a need to be open with formators in the seminary about our struggles and joys. The problem of sometimes living a double life was raised. An observation was made that formation will guide a person, but it won’t change him if he does not want to change. Also noting that the abuser in the documentary, Father Oliver O’Grady, went to the seminary with a problem already as he shared that his problems started at home. That prompted Fr. O’Connor to remind the participants that around 14 000 girls got pregnant in Gauteng province in one year only, 2020, in the ordinary society and not all girls were impregnated by their peers.
Other observation about formation were made; that formation starts from conception, and what happens to our mothers when we are in their wombs has an impact on us. Also, that all circles of influence our formation, and formation stops at death not at the seminary. The last piece of advice from the Secretary General was that if anyone feels they were not open at the seminary they need to do something about it now. Formation is a life journey and we are responsible for our own formation. In the afternoon the group dealt with documents on protocol and professional conduct.