Catholic priest ‘confessed 1,500 times to abusing children’, victim says mandatory reporting could have saved him

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A former altar boy who was allegedly sexually abused by a serial paedophile priest says he could have been spared if the Catholic Church enforced mandatory reporting of crimes admitted in the confessional.

By the time Father Michael McArdle allegedly targeted the then-12-year-old for oral sex, he had already been molesting children for a decade.

The abuse lasted for several months at the sacristy and presbytery of the Holy Rosary Church in Bundaberg, as well as during an overnight school camp, legal documents allege.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Greg* said.

“A couple of years ago I had a mental breakdown, I wanted to kill myself.

“But I’ve come through it — I think.”

Greg launched legal action in August against the Diocese of Rockhampton for the mental toll the abuse has taken on him, with his lawyers lodging a notice of claim for the civil suit.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jed McNamara, who is representing Greg, said an affidavit filed by McArdle in 2004 revealed he confessed 1,500 times to 30 different priests over a 25-year period.

McArdle, who resigned from the priesthood in 2000, was jailed in 2004 for six years for 62 indecent dealing charges against 14 boys and two girls over a 22-year period from 1965 in regional Catholic parishes across Queensland.

Mr McNamara said his client would be seeking to negotiate a settlement of the case for the psychological injury he suffered.

“If there were not recommendations (from the royal commission) for reporting of abuse then that enabled that abuse to reoccur and reoccur and reoccur — case in point, McArdle,” he said.

“For the better part of a decade before he abused my client. Would confess, would be absolved, would go back out, would repeat that offending behaviour, would go back to confession and the cycle continued.”

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuserecommended mandatory reporting to police of child abuse admitted in the confessional, leading to Queensland’s drafting of the proposed Child Sexual Offences Reform Bill.

It is currently being considered by the state’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee before being returned to Parliament for a vote.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has criticised the attempt at reform, saying lifting the confessional seal and enforcing mandatory reporting would do little to save young people.

Greg, however, disagrees.

“If somebody had stepped in way back then and got him out of the system earlier, it would have been a different life and I’m sure it would have been better,” he said.

“These are kids’ lives we’re dealing with and you only get one shot at life and if you can have a good start it makes all the difference.”

At times suffering depressions and anxiety, Greg also turned to alcohol to cope.

Jobs have been hard to pin down, so too have romantic relationships.

“If that hadn’t have happened, where would I be now?

“I would be in a better position as far as life goes.”

Archbishop Coleridge is on an overseas holiday and unavailable for comment but his spokesperson directed the ABC to his submission to the committee considering the state legislation.

“The royal commission heard from a panel of six experienced priests with a combined history of more than 150 years as pastors,” Archbishop Coleridge wrote.

“The royal commission asked these priests if they had ever had someone confess a crime during the sacrament of penance.

“They told the royal commission that this had never happened.

“There are publicised examples of convicted priests claiming that they confessed their child abuse regularly.

“However, it must be noted that someone can confess very generally (for instance, ‘I broke the Sixth Commandment’,) without providing further detail.

“Perhaps former priests who have been found guilty of child abuse should not be so readily believed by media when they claim to have confessed their abuse when much of their life has been a lie.”

*Name withheld for legal reasons.