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Austin Cline

Catholic Church Returns Predator Priest to the Pulpit

By January 21, 2013

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It's not just children who are abused and raped by Catholic priests, it's adults, too. Father Tom Knowles has been installed as a priest at St Francis' in Melbourne after just 16 months of "administrative leave." He sexually abused a disabled woman for 14 years and initiated the abuse with what can only be called a rape.

Bad Priest
Bad Priest
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Sometimes, the abuse of adults can be just as bad as the abuse of children, especially when it involves vulnerable adults whose trust is betrayed priests who abuse, molest, and rape. Unfortunately, it's not an issue that the Catholic Church seems to be taking very seriously.

They've had to pay $100,000 in compensation for Knowles' actions, but they're not shying away from putting him in a position where he can do such things again. A psychiatrist would lose their license for doing what Tom Knowles did. I guess the standards for Catholic priest aren't anywhere near that high.

Ms Herrick was a shy 19-year-old from NSW, who suffered from bilateral congenital hip dysplasia - which caused her to walk with an highly abnormal gait - when her family's priest, Tom Knowles, cultivated a relationship with her. Ms Herrick's later psychological reports say she was being groomed.

When Ms Herrick turned 22, Father Knowles, who was then 30, unexpectedly initiated intercourse with her, an act she describes as unpleasant and painful but one she felt powerless to stop due to his position. It was the first time Ms Herrick had ever had sex.

For the next 14 years, Father Knowles maintained a secret sexual relationship with Ms Herrick. "I now understand that my very severe vulnerability allowed him to exploit me by abusing his priestly powerful position for nearly two decades for his sexual needs,'' she said. ... Ms Herrick allowed Father Knowles - who as a Catholic priest is meant to be celibate - to have sex with her during a 14-year period and told no one about it.

In 2011, after she lodged a formal complaint, a confidential church investigation found his conduct to be highly inappropriate. Ms Herrick allowed Father Knowles to have sex with her during the 14-year period and told no one about it. She says the sex was often hurried, aggressive and sometimes painful. She withdrew from friends and family and grew increasingly anxious, ultimately having a breakdown and losing her career as a high school teacher.

But in December 2012, a senior NSW church official, Michael Salmon, advised Ms Herrick's lawyer in writing that Father Knowles had ''committed to a prolonged, regular and very intensive and personally confronting program of therapy'' and he would ''return to full community life, and to public ministry''.

Professor Ormerod, who has supported Ms Herrick, said that in reinstating Father Knowles the church sent a "signal to the victim that her situation wasn't serious" when in fact the abuse of trust by the priest had been extensive.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

An investigation conducted by the Catholic church itself has acknowledged that what Tom Knowles did was "highly in appropriate," though that strikes me as fairly weak language. I'm really not sure why they don't simply acknowledge that he groomed her for sex, raped her, then used his position to coerce her into years of sexual servitude. That would be more accurate, I think.

January 21, 2013 at 10:44 pm
(1) Curious says:

She was of consenting age… where do you draw the line between consentual and predatorial? She has a disability, but not a mental one, so was still well capable of saying ‘no’ if she wanted. To the outsider, it can look like she’s had a relationship with him all this time, and now wants to play the victim after its all over.

January 24, 2013 at 6:23 am
(2) Lucia says:

Until you have not experienced vulnerability and hardship you will not understand. There are many reasons why we call abuse a sexual act between two adults even when it may seem as a consent to you. This is an article that does not provide many details and only briefly describes the circumstances.
I don’t understand why it went on for so long but the final line is that Knowles (can’t bring my self to call him a father) was wrong to have a sexual relation and he should not be reinstated to his duties! It makes me angry that he is now preaching in the church after 14 years of abusing somebody. A person never recovers from sexual abuse and it doesn’t matter whether it is an adult or a child.

January 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm
(3) mia says:

@ Curious

Are you serious, or are you just trolling?

So, following your logic, any person in the victim’s position could have just said “no” and there would have been no crime? Even if she were to have had a consensual relationship with him, for you to say that is just messed up.

What angers me about your comment is that you want to pass as the neutral outsider. To say “if she weren’t a wheelchair-ridden whore who agreed to it all along and is now seeking some kind of benefit” would have been more honest of you.

Shame on you.

January 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm
(4) Cousin Ricky says:

@Curious – Father Knowles was in a position of power and authority. We may not recognize his authority, but to a Catholic, a priest is one of God’s representatives. Fear of burning in hell forever can be quite an effective inducement to keeping quiet.

Shouldn’t Ms Herrick have known that the priest was in the wrong? Well, if you’ve been following the scandal, you know that the RCC isn’t above blaming the victims for seducing the priests, and if you know anything about the RCC, you know that guilt is their specialty. Besides, Catholic priests are hardly unique in abusing their alleged connection with God this way.

Mentally handicapped or not, Ms Herrick was vulnerable. The actions of church authorities show that they acknowledge that Fr. Knowles was culpable, so Ms Herrick’s mental state is not in question.

January 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm
(5) Tim says:

He was a priest you freak! Ya know, celibate, someone to trust, to confide in….a man of god. No one can speak so easily as someone who has never been there.

January 26, 2013 at 8:57 am
(6) George says:

“She was of consenting age…” Does it really matter if she was of consenting age?
where do you draw the line between consentual and predatorial? As I understand ,a priest is not suppose to have sex. If he does not like the rule which he accepted when he became a priest, well. resign and do the right thing, as other priest had done in the past.
“She has a disability, but not a mental one, so was still well capable of saying ‘no’ if she wanted.” Does it really matter, it is suppose that a priest do not engage in sex.
“To the outsider, it can look like she’s had a relationship with him all this time, and now wants to play the victim after its all over.” Well. the priest should have known better. if a person plays with fire , that person runs the risk of getting burnt.

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