Catholics sorry that a priest abused a disabled woman

Catholics sorry that a priest abused a disabled woman

The Catholic Church today publicly apologised to a disabled woman who was abused over a period of 14 years by one of its priests, Father Tom Knowles, above, the first priest in Australia to be defrocked for having a ‘long-term inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman.’

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the apology to Jennifer Herrick was issued at Victoria’s oldest and busiest Catholic Church, St Francis

In the apology the Church said:

On behalf of the Australian Province of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation, I wish to apologise to Jennifer Herrick for the pain and suffering she experienced.


Herrick, above, was not at the service. She lives in another state and thought the idea of being there would be too traumatic.

The public apology is the culmination of a seven-year battle Herrick waged against the Catholic Church to obtain redress for an ordeal that began when she was a vulnerable young woman with a disability in Sydney. Knowles, who was later to become the Australian head of his order, was working there as a priest.

Herrick’s story was first told publicly in early 2013 when Fairfax Media revealed how the Church had first stood down, and then reinstated Knowles despite evidence he had sexually preyed upon Ms Herrick for 14 years.

In her attempt to bring the Church to account, Herrick sought the help of a the Freethinker to identify a woman whom she thought might assist her in her quest. The person had left a comment on an earlier report we carried about Herrick’s ordeal, and we were able to put the two women in touch.

Herrick was a shy 19-year-old with bilateral congenital hip dysplasia – a condition causing her to walk with a highly abnormal gait – when Knowles, who was her family’s priest, cultivated a relationship with her at his church, Our Lady of Dolours, in Chatswood, Sydney.

Subsequent psychological reports assert she was being groomed.

When she turned 22, Herrick allowed Father Knowles, who as a Catholic priest had taken a vow of celibacy, to have sex with her during a 14-year period. The sex was often hurried, aggressive and sometimes painful. And she told no one about it.

In a report, Herrick’s psychologist, Ana Grant, said the priest’s conduct had caused her patient serious post-traumatic stress disorder and fell:

Within the criteria for clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse.

The apology in St Francis in Melbourne’s CBD on Sunday, along with a confidential payout, was offered to Herrick to settle a court action she launched against Knowles and three senior members of his Catholic order in mid-2013.

The Church initially sought to block her case by using the controversial “Ellis defence” – a legal precedent that means the Church is not liable for the conduct of a priest. The church also argued that Herrick’s case lacked merit, as she had previously accepted a confidential settlement as part of the Towards Healing process, an internal complaint handling system run by the Catholic Church.

But Herrick insists she was under “extreme duress” when she initially signed a settlement with the Church in late 2011.

As with many of the cases reviewed by the Royal Commission, Herrick says that the settlement was on terms dictated by the Church, rather than those of the victim. She says it did not acknowledge the tremendous impact of Knowles’ conduct on her life, a claim reinforced by the decision of the Church to allow Knowles to return to work as a priest in 2013.

That decision was over-ruled by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart when the Sunday Age ran a front page photo of Knowles delivering mass. Ms Herrick’s story ran alongside that picture.

Last year, as Herrick battled on in the NSW Supreme Court, Knowles was quietly “laicised” – defrocked – though Ms Herrick only discovered this by accident. That decision was not made public until today.

Herrick says she agreed to settle her court action in return for a public apology in church and further compensation.

It was the church’s attitude – and their refusal to accept that I was abused – that prompted me to fight.  I decided they needed to be accountable. They just wanted to give me some money and for me to go away.

She believes there may be many vulnerable women who have been abused by priests but who have never come forward.

I also took the case forward on behalf of those women.

23 responses to “Catholics sorry that a priest abused a disabled woman”

  1. Broga says:

    “The Church initially sought to block her case by using the controversial “Ellis defence…………….” Says it all, doesn’t it? If the church can overcome the victim while hiding and supporting the priest then they will do it.

  2. Paul Ward says:

    There’s a Law in the Catholic church which enforces the need to protect the institution from scandal. Yes a law. So, as we have seen, the church authority will pay $millions of donated charity money to protect itself.
    This overrides the pastoral care of others as taught by Jesus himself , and as taught by the Bishops through the Second Vatican council.
    I have received a church ‘apology’ given in private by Bishop Anthony Fisher for “harm done” . It.was coppied to my lawyer and his lawyer.

  3. charles Longstreth says:

    Considering the human male and the way he is constructed it might be thought that the priest who does not, in some way, deal with his sexuality is really abnormal.

  4. Paul Ward says:

    So Charles, because all men have a penis “how he is constructed ??? What do you mean “deal with his sexuality”? Does that mean he has to have sex with some one, even by force? Including the large section of Catholic Pries who are homosexual?
    Perhaps married Catholic clergy , both women and men, is an answer.
    Better still, priests who show the love of God by respect. Now, that’s an idea.

  5. Trevor Blake says:


    There, all better. Now back to the rape, eh lads?

  6. Paul Ward says:

    Trevor, who are you addressing? Or is it some form of British humour I don’t understand?

  7. Smokey says:

    Are they sorry he did it, or are they sorry that he was caught?

    Never mind, stupid question.

  8. barriejohn says:

    Smokey: Spot on!

    Of course, he was only taking his cue from the Bible, where disabilities are seen as a mark of God’s displeasure, and the result of that person or their parents’ “sin”.

    And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

    More such references here:

  9. John says:

    I think it was very Christian of the church to apologise.
    What more could anyone expect of them?

  10. barriejohn says:

    John: And “forgiving” the priest, of course. Christians always make a big thing of that when it’s one of their own!

  11. sailor1031 says:

    Paul: IMO RCC Inc. is a criminal enterprise within the definitions of the RICO act. Apart from rape of children and other vulnerable persons their documented crimes include fraud, money-laundering, working with the Mafia, actively assisting wanted nazi criminals to escape justice, involvement in murder, running a concentration camp in the Balkans in WW2. Married men and women priests is not the answer. The answer is dissolution of this evil empire and imprisonment of its top executives for very long periods.

  12. Robster says:

    One day, perhaps, maybe, someone with a functioning moral compass will wander, probably by mistake, into a Catholic outpost. Once the compass is discovered, they’ll be marched out.

  13. Cali Ron says:

    Paul Ward: “Better still, priests who show the love of God by respect.” You can’t show the love of an imaginary being and the church has a long history of not respecting their own followers. Money they respect, but not so much the flock.

  14. Paul Ward says:

    Cali Ron. What is imaginary about pure LOVE? The idea of God as some old man sleeping on a cloud, that’s imaginary. The word “God” to me is a spirit of Love.

    However “God”, is a popular name or word used to personify Love.

    I’m not here to discuss Theological points.

    My point is that Priests promise to share love which is naturally inclusive of respect for and of others. Compassion is another word. A person who believes in practicing love (in this case as taught by Jesus), would never want to hurt or sexuality abuse others. Though people are mortal humans thus prone to fault.

    The theory is that Tom Knowles loved “God” ( however he believed the nature of God to be.).
    In the spirituality followed by the Father of the “Blessed Sacrament” they believe that all Catholic people are united in one community. This is a bit deep, I know. I’m not saying you or others have to believe it. But Tom Knowles preached it, love which combines a community of believers. He preached it publicly, but privately violated it. He didn’t love Jennifer Herrick, he used her body for his personal gratification. He made a public vow not to do what he actually did in private, and in secret but public places as on a beach. He was fake. He’s now punished.
    This isn’t about anything imaginary. It’s all about abuse of power by a man over a vulnerable woman.

  15. sailor1031 says:

    “A person who believes in practicing love (in this case as taught by Jesus), would never want to hurt or sexuality(sic) abuse others”

    You make the point for us. These people are not believers in what they preach; they are a bunch of conscienceless frauds and scammers abusing their power for their own benefit, be it money acquisition or sexual gratification. It is further evident that they also don’t believe their own preachings about sin and doG’s punishment of it or they wouldn’t do these things. Their own scripture tells them quite clearly not to harm children for instance, yet they do it on an industrial scale. No, the answer is dissolution of the criminal enterprise, confiscation of its assets and temporal punishment for its executives.

    It is a great pity that the laity who profess loyalty to RCC Inc. cannot see it for what it is but insist on thinking there is something of great value somewhere within it despite all the evidence to the contrary.

  16. Stephen Mynett says:

    “Their own scripture tells them quite clearly not to harm children for instance . . . ”

    Not too sure about that, Proverbs says it is OK to beat the shit out of them, sparing the rod etc.

  17. John says:

    This all brings a whole new meaning to:-

    Matthew 19:14 – 14 ‘But Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”‘
    King James Version (KJV).

    Next, it will be football coaches saying and doing the same thing!

  18. sailor1031 says:

    Luke 17:2 (Douai-Rheims version (the catholic bible)):
    “…It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones.”

  19. Cali Ron says:

    Paul Ward: Sorry Paul, but the word “god” is a concept about a supernatural deity and has absolutely nothing to do with love for me. The association of god with love is the fictional work of religion and not based on any reality. God is not love, it’s a name for something that doesn’t exist. I prefer to not denigrate love by associating it with the irrational and duplicitous rantings of religion.

    As for your conclusion I agree 100%.

  20. Paul Ward says:

    Dear Sailor, I agree with the first half, but still have hope in the church as people who believe in love for one another.
    Yes, the wealth stinks. Sell it off, melt the gold and silver.
    The church is not a co Inc. Nor organized sex ring. You know that. However I agree it’s corrupt and needs renewal.

  21. Cali Ron says:

    “However I agree it’s corrupt and needs renewal.” It is corrupt, but it doesn’t need renewal, it needs dismantling.

  22. sailor1031 says:

    It’s had 1700-odd years and has had opportunity for numerous “renewals” in that time but has mostly shown interest only in acquiring money and power and protecting its own temporal interests. One thinks of the albigensian crusades or the inquisition for instance – both instances of a ruthless corporation determined to stamp out competition. Dissolution is the answer, not some spurious renewal. I agree that some of the laity and even of the clergy are motivated by ideals of decency but they don’t need this totally corrupt corporation to live honest, generous and full lives. Many of the members of this organisation are not good and decent people – such power-hungry adherents as, e.g. ,clarence thomas or the late unlamented antonin scalia and their ilk; people who worm their way into positions of great influence and profit to themselves without showing a shred of honesty or care for any who are not in the 0.01%.

    People all over the world are leading good, worthwhile lives without this pernicious organisation. I submit that catholics can too. In the words of that literary figure yeshue bar yussef “by their fruits you shall know them”. We have seen the fruits and now we know them.

  23. sailor1031 says:

    should have mentioned tony blair in there too!