'Priests aren't paedophiles': religious leaders take on You Can't Ask That questions
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'Priests aren't paedophiles': religious leaders take on You Can't Ask That questions

Wednesday night's episode of You Can't Ask That puts the spotlight on priests, asking them a range of confronting questions about their beliefs, gay people, holy wine, sex lives and paedophilia.

The episode, which is the final in a headline-grabbing season that has seen drag queens, former cult members and sexual assault victims take part, certainly doesn't shy away from the uglier sides of priesthood and other forms of religious authority.

Before long, the eight priests taking part are faced with the mother of all questions, written on the show's signature white card. "Why are so many priests paedophiles?" one of them reads aloud.

"That's a tough question," answers Father Marcus Goulding, a young Catholic priest from Sydney. "So much of what has happened in our church has been terrible - absolutely, hands-down, there’s no excusing that in any way.

"I've only grown up in church knowing the church to be dealing with this kind of issue. I can’t remember a time when the church didn't have the issue of paedophilia on the horizon."

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Reverend Roger Dyer, from Ballarat in Victoria, points out that priests shouldn't all be tarred with the same brush.

"Priests aren't paedophiles," he explains. "Paedophiles get access to the priesthood and inculcate that within the priestly community for their own selfish ends and purposes.

"People have seen the way priesthood is being presented as a powerful position - and indeed it was in the past - and that’s where these people used it," Dyer says.

Reverend Chris Bedding on Wednesday's finale episode of You Can't Ask That.

Reverend Chris Bedding on Wednesday's finale episode of You Can't Ask That.

Photo: ABC

Reverend Chris Bedding, from Perth, agrees. "If someone’s a predator, they go looking for a place where they can prey on vulnerable people easily," he says. "When a priest abuses, they betray everything about what they claim to believe and exploit those who they’re supposed to care for."

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The priests also spoke about the effect that paedophiles in the priesthood have had on people's perception of their work - and lament the fact that it's changed their vocation for good.

"When people find out you're a priest, they go, 'Ohhh.' You know - paedophile," says Terry Fitzpatrick, who runs an independent church in Brisbane. "The Catholic church has been severely damaged - irrevocably damaged."

"I take off my collar in public, just to avoid odd questions and stares," adds Bedding. "You’re constantly aware that the image of priests has been tarnished."

Dyer, who was a whistleblower in the case of paedophile Newcastle Anglican priest Peter Rushton, detailed how his initial involvement was met with disapproval from the church.

"I’ve had four parishes in succession where there's been abuse," Dyer explains. "I don't think there was a child that went through Wallsend parish [in Newcastle, NSW] that hadn’t been affected by Peter Rushton.

"I said that the church had to come to grips with the allegations of sexual abuse - it had to fess up. The institution curled up into itself and tried to remove me. Any thought of acceptance within the church community was thrown out the window. I stood alone. I can’t describe the disappointment, the sadness and the alienation."

Whistleblower Reverend Roger Dyer was part of the 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Whistleblower Reverend Roger Dyer was part of the 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Photo: ABC

His bravery was rewarded though, when he was asked to take the stand in 2017's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

"To then be invited to the royal commission and get it out there that a priest did make a stand was really wonderful. The number of the abused who came up to me afterwards was quite moving - and they hugged us and certainly were appreciative that someone had stood."

The season finale of You Can't Ask That airs on Wednesday at 9pm on ABC. Production has started on a fourth season.