The family of a priest who struggled with celibacy is fighting for his reputation


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“However the Archdiocese made out like he was some type of paedophile when he was in consensual relationships. He by no means, ever agreed to abusing anybody.”


The push to clear Ernie Smith’s title comes as a debate on celibacy within the Catholic Church heats up, amid the vexed query of what constitutes pastoral misconduct and abuse when it includes adults.

Quite a lot of men and women, interviewed for an investigation revealed right this moment, say there isn’t a such factor as a really consensual relationship between a priest and a weak grownup as a result of the ability imbalance is just too nice. It is comparable, they are saying, to a psychiatrist who will get concerned with a consumer.

“We don’t resist as a result of we’re confused, scared, and ashamed – needing to maintain this a secret,” mentioned one. “And if we don’t resist, how can we declare abuse?”

Others say the problems usually are not so black and white. They word that wholesome relationships, a few of which have resulted in folks leaving the priesthood to marry, are among the many many secret interactions involving clergy that the church has turned a blind eye to.

The scene inside St. Joseph's Church, Collingwood, in 1997, when Father Ernie Smith retired.

The scene inside St. Joseph’s Church, Collingwood, in 1997, when Father Ernie Smith retired.

Talking for the primary time since Father Ernie was stood down, Ms Petterson mentioned she believed celibacy must be non-obligatory for clergymen – in keeping with a key suggestion from the Royal Fee into Institutional Responses into Little one Sexual Abuse.

In his 1993 e book, Miracles Do Occur, Father Ernie additionally brazenly spoke of his struggles with the “loneliness” of his vow.

“So far as I used to be involved it was not a ‘freely chosen present’ however a needed burden if one wished to be a priest,” he wrote.


Ms Pettersen revealed that her uncle’s dying want was to have his legacy restored at Sacred Coronary heart, the mission he based greater than three many years in the past when he first opened his St Kilda church door to a homeless man in 1982.

Associates of the late priest have backed the push, with former parishioner Sally Gibson saying: “There would have been no mission with out Ernie Smith.”

Former Archbishop Denis Hart stood Father Smith down in February after a lady with whom he had a relationship approached the church’s inside complaints course of, the Melbourne Response. Two different complaints had been made by two separate in ladies 2005 and 2006, however the Archdiocese selected to not take motion on the time.

Nevertheless, Ms Pettersen claims the most recent inquiry into her uncle was grossly unfair, comprising largely of a letter and “one brief telephone name” by investigators when his well being was deteriorating, and a damaged promise to maintain the issues confidential.

The Archdiocese mentioned it had it had nothing additional so as to add. Nevertheless earlier this yr, at a Melbourne Press Membership lunch, new Archbishop Peter A Comensoli was requested concerning the broader problems with celibacy and pastoral boundary violation involving adults.

He mentioned he didn’t agree with the Royal Fee’s suggestion for non-obligatory celibacy, however on the latter, replied: “There are vital inquiries to be requested of all of us who’re leaders within the church, in with everybody.”

“I’m firmly dedicated to making sure that our clergymen obtain good formation, skilled improvement and have a transparent understanding of the behavioural requirements anticipated of them,” he later informed The Sunday Age.

A Sacred Coronary heart spokeswoman declined to remark when requested if the Mission would rethink its determination to take away all recognition of Father Smith on the charity.

In distinction, the Wellington Centre, one other facility Father Ernie established to assist the marginalised in Collingwood, made a unanimous board determination earlier this yr to maintain him as their founder and patron.

“It was felt very strongly that the great work and legacy he’d left must be allowed to proceed,” mentioned chairman James MacLeod.

Farrah Tomazin is an Investigative Reporter for The Age, with pursuits in politics, social justice, and authorized affairs.

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