Church accused of dodging concerns over Bethel sleaze
The West Australian
, www.thewest. com.au
By GARY ADSHEAD and SEAN COWAN, p 3, Saturday, July 5, 2008
The people who found the courage in 2000 to document and present their fears over the cult-like transformation of the Bethel Covenant Community were grateful for the opportunity to meet the man they addressed as "Your Grace".
After much hand-wringing and some sleepless nights, the group had decided it was the right thing to do. The 300-strong lay Catholic organisation was under the spell of a man obsessed with controlling every aspect of the members' lives, from the bedroom to the boardroom.
If Archbishop Barry Hickey did not confront Bethel's leader Kevin Horgan and bring about change, then all hope was lost.
In a covering letter the group of professionals, including two former priests, pointed out that while the community had contributed much goodness to their lives, it was time to speak out. In an attached document for the Archbishop was a damning indictment of an organisation operating under the umbrella of the Catholic Church.
"For example, some of us as pastoral leaders were encouraged to ask details of people's lives, such as asking single men about their masturbation habits and, those of us who are married, experienced inquiries about details of our sexual relationship," the former members wrote.
"Not only could the pastoral system in the Bethel community be used to exert undue influence, but some of us experienced that the influence of those outside the community was discouraged."
The document told the heart-breaking story of an "outside" woman who became pregnant to a Bethel member and was quickly isolated by the covenant's most powerful man.
[Picture] Kevin Horgan
"She recalls Mr Horgan indicating that if her partner wanted to marry her he would have to leave as she indicated she was not prepared to join and put herself under Mr Horgan's authority," it read. "The end result of the 'counselling' was that she was left on her own during the pregnancy and birth with little support or contact from the father of the child."
Throughout the 13-page document, the authors' primary concerns lay with the grip Bethel leaders had on the everyday lives of members. But the sleaze permeating the organisation was also addressed.
The view was that Mr Horgan had repeatedly crossed sexual boundaries by using his influence over female members to investigate their sexual relationships with men.
[Picture] Answers: Archbishop Barry Hickey says he is preparing a response to a 'damning indictment' by former Bethel members.
According to the document's authors, who were contacted by The West Australian
, the Archbishop never came back to them with a response.
‘Even though I am Catholic I am sometimes ashamed to admit it with what the hierarchy does. ’
They were stunned by his recent denials about what he knew of the disturbing events inside Bethel.
"Very surprised," one of the authors said. "Very surprised and really disappointed with the leaders of our own Church. Even though I am Catholic, I am sometimes ashamed to admit it with what the Catholic hierarchy does."
The West Australian
revealed the Bethel crisis in May after obtaining a copy of a 2007 report into a range of sexually charged allegations and statutory declarations from some of the women who said they were sexually abused.
Mr Horgan resigned in disgrace and did not return calls from the newspaper. Last week, another senior community leader resigned.
Auxiliary Bishop of Perth Don Sproxton will address the remaining 100-plus members of the community at the end of this month despite anger about the Church's attempt to distance itself from the scandal in its May statement.
Concerned Christians Growth Ministries
director Adrian van Leen was incredulous about the Church's handling of the Bethel crisis.
"Our deep disappointment is that, though I as director of CCGM, along with others, passed on some of these concerns to the Catholic Church leadership in the mid-1990s, nothing was done about them," he said.
He said the people behind the 2000 report and others who had come forward since believed that the Catholic hierarchy had deliberately side-stepped responsibility.
Last night, a spokesman for Archbishop Hickey said he was preparing a full response but did not concede that revelations in the 2000 report contradicted his answers to questions from The West Australian
in May. #