A vulnerable young woman became a victim

By a Broken Rites researcher

The Catholic Church in Australia has been forced to apologise to a woman ("Diana") who was sexually abused by a priest immediately after the death of her husband.

The priest, Father Gerard Monaghan, was ordained in 1961 (aged 26) for the Canberra-Goulburn diocese, which includes some country parishes in southern New South Wales and on the NSW south coast.

As well as working in parishes, Fr Monaghan conducted marriage encounter groups and had an official responsibility in family planning. These roles enabled him to glean intimate details about the lives of women parishioners. He also visited hospitals, where he became acquainted with women patients, one of whom was Diana.

Diana's story finally became public in 1994. Monaghan then took premature retirement from parish work.

Diana's story

"Diana" (not her real name) told Broken Rites in 1994 how she had encountered Fr Monaghan in the late 1970s while she was a young widow:

  • "In the late 1970s, I suffered a double trauma. My husband died and I myself was in hospital in Canberra, seriously ill. I did not previously know Fr Gerard Monaghan but he introduced himself to me in hospital, saying that hospital visits were a part of his priestly duty. He visited me several times at the hospital and held my hand, while I was under sedation. He was then aged in his early forties — much older than me.

    "After I came home from hospital, I was still traumatised and on sedation, grieving about the loss of my husband. Gerard Monaghan began visiting my home. He started talking about my loss and said he too had a lack. He said it was lonely being a priest. He queried whether he would stay in the priesthood.

    "He said he would visit me again late at night, about 10.30 or 11.00pm. He said his priestly duties kept him busy during the day. I would not have let any Joe Blow come late at night but a priest seemed safe.

    "When he made his late-night visit, I was crying. He cuddled me on the lounge. Then he said how much he cared for me. He said he wanted to help me cope to fill the gap in my life. Then he was kissing me and saying he loved me. Then he left, having set the scene.

    "He said that, for his next nocturnal visit, I should leave the front door unlocked and go to bed and he would let himself into the house. However, I stayed up and waited in the lounge. When he arrived, he carried me to the bedroom and got us both into bed.

    "This happened while I was still deeply in bereavement and while I was still traumatised by my own bad health. I did not consent to the sex but I was too groggy, from medication, to resist. He took advantage of my helplessness and he took advantage of his public image as a Catholic priest."

[Broken Rites believes that, as Diana was a patient, traumatised and on medication at the time of the sexual abuse, Fr Monaghan's action was especially serious. The 1990 Crimes Act of the Australian Capital Territory Parliament (section 92.P.I) says that "the consent of a person to sexual intercourse is negated" if the offender obtains this consent by abusing his position of authority (or by abusing his professional or other trust) in relation to the victim or if the consent is caused by the victim's physical helplessness or mental incapacity.]

Diana continued:

  • "I did not feel comfortable about what Monaghan was doing. Furthermore, at a function in his parish, I heard him arranging to visit another woman late at night and he told her to leave the door open. This was exactly what he had told me and I realised that I was not the only woman he was abusing. Gerard Monaghan's abuse added to my grief.

    "I now know that Gerard Monaghan had many affairs while he was in Canberra. In 1980 the Canberra-Goulburn hierarchy found out about a relationship that Monaghan had been having for about a year with a woman in the charismatic movement. Monaghan suddenly left the parish and there was talk of a 'nervous breakdown'. After a period of 'sick leave', the diocese posted him in the early 1980s to one of its country parishes, at Michelago [between Canberra and Cooma]. Then they posted him, for the remainder of the 1980s, to Bega [another country parish, still in the Canberra-Goulburn diocese], where he engaged in more sexual activity with women. Some relatives of mine had been in Bega before that and they heard from friends about his Bega sexual exploits.

    "I have now gathered the names of at least five other women with whom he had affairs in Canberra.

    "I expect that Monaghan was abusing other victims long before he abused me. In the 1960s, as a young priest, he was a chaplain in Canberra for youth. This was when there were many young public servants living in hostels. If these young people encountered Gerard Monaghan, they could have been in danger."

Transfer to Queensland

In an unusual development in 1990, the Canberra-Goulburn hierarchy allowed Monaghan to transfer, on loan, to the Brisbane archdiocese in Queensland, where he became the Parish Priest in charge of "Our Lady of Grace" parish in Carina, a Brisbane suburb. The Brisbane parishioners were not informed about Monaghan's record as a womaniser. This enabled Monaghan to continue in the priesthood.

  • [Broken Rites understands that if a psychiatrist used his intimate knowledge of a patient to take sexual advantage of the patient, the psychiatrist could be liable to be de-registered as a medical practitioner. Similar safeguards apply in other health professions. Evidently, this rule does not apply to a Catholic priest taking advantage of a vulnerable parishioner who is under the priest's supervision and care.]

!n 1994, when Monaghan was still working in the Brisbane parish, Broken Rites (with Diana's consent) put Diana in contact with the Brisbane Sunday Mail. This newspaper published Diana's story on 16 October, 1994, without naming the priest. An official of the Brisbane archdiocese, Rev. James Spence, immediately went to Fr Monaghan's Brisbane parish and announced that, because Diana's allegations had become public, Fr Monaghan had "gone on leave". Father Spence conducted the parish's services for that day. Although the Sunday Mail did not name the priest, Father Spence told the Brisbane parishioners that the alleged offender in the newspaper was their local pastor, Fr Gerard Monaghan.

A day later, on Monday 17 October 1994, Diana's story appeared in the Canberra Times. This caused much interest in Canberra, where Monaghan was a prominent figure.

Contacted by the Canberra Times, Canberra Archbishop Francis Carroll admitted to this newspaper that the hierarchy were made aware in the early 1980s that the priest had been involved in "inappropriate sexual behaviour". However, Carroll claimed that the priest had received "psychiatric and counselling treatment" and, furthermore, he claimed that the priest was "rehabilitated".

Later on that same day, on Canberra's Capital Ten Television evening news bulletin, a member of the Catholic hierarchy publicly apologised to women who had been hurt by "this priest". The television news-reader announced the name of the priest — Fr Gerard Monaghan.

In media statements, Archbishop Carroll said that anybody with a complaint should contact the church authorities. Diana took up this invitation and had some dealings with the Canberra-Goulburn diocese during the next few years.

A representative of the Canberra-Goulburn diocese gave Diana a verbal (but not written) apology and offered her a limited amount of help (merely a small number of counselling sessions from the church's own counselling agency). Apart from this, the diocese was reluctant to do much more for her, claiming that Diana must demonstrate what proportion of her emotional problems were caused by the priest, as distinct from other causes. Thus, Diana found the church evasive and defensive.

Despite the Canberra hierarchy's admission and apology about this priest's sexual activities, the Brisbane archdiocese told the Sunday Mail that it was prepared to keep Fr Monaghan in his Brisbane parish

The media exposure evidently made it difficult for the Canberra-Goulburn diocese to continue harbouring Monaghan in the role of a parish priest. Despite being on loan to Brisbane, Monaghan still belonged officially to the Canberra-Goulburn diocese — and if any more of Monaghan's victims came forward, they would target the Canberra-Goulburn diocese, rather than Brisbane.

In 1994, after the media exposure, Fr Gerard Monaghan went into early retirement from parish work, aged only 59. He spent his retirement living in the city of Wollongong, New South Wales.

The priest's background

Broken Rites has researched Gerard Monaghan's career in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory and other official sources.

Gerard Monaghan, born in 1935, was the oldest in a family of nine children. He spent his later childhood in Wollongong and completed his secondary schooling as a boarder at St Patrick's, College, Goulburn. After studying for the priesthood at St Patrick's Seminary, Manly (Sydney), he was ordained in 1961 as a priest of the Canberra-Goulburn diocese. His ordination ceremony was held in St John Vianney's Church, Fairy Meadow (Wollongong ).

From 1962 to 1967 he was an assistant priest at St Christopher's parish in central Canberra. Simultaneously, he was also a chaplain at the Royal Australian Air Force base at Fairbairn, near Canberra. He was also a chaplain to many of the Canberra hostels which housed mainly young people coming from interstate to work in the federal public service.

Next, he was an assistant priest at these parishes (all in the Canberra-Goulburn diocese):

  • Cooma, NSW (St Patrick's parish), 1967-68;
  • Yass NSW, (St Augustine's parish), 1969-71;
  • Garran, Canberra (St Peter and St Paul's parish), 1972; and
  • Young, NSW (St Mary's parish), until 1976.

In September 1976 Monaghan was appointed as the Parish Priest in charge of St Anthony's in Wanniassa, Canberra.

Simultaneously, in the late 1970s he was listed as director of the Catholic Family Planning Centre in Canberra. [Broken Rites is wondering: In his intimate sexual relationships with women, did Father Monaghan practise "family planning"?]

In 1982, after the diocese could no longer turn a blind eye to his sexual activities, Monaghan had a period of leave from parish work.

In 1983 the Canberra-Goulburn again appointed him to positions of responsibility — first, as the Parish Priest at St Patrick's in Michelago NSW and then (until 1990) as the Parish Priest at another St Patrick's in Bega NSW. Both these parishes are within the Canberra-Goulburn diocese. The Bega listing in the 1988 directory gave his initials as "Rev. G.G. Monaghan".

When the Canberra-Goulburn diocese arranged for him to transfer, on leave, to the Brisbane archdiocese in Queensland (to become the Parish Priest of "Our Lady of Graces" Parish at Carina), this move involved an agreement between the heads of those two dioceses.

The Carina parish was staffed by the Dominican religious order, and several Dominican priests were living there with Monaghan. Therefore, the appointment to Carina would also have required the approval of the Australian head of the Dominican order. Monaghan had become acquainted with Dominican priests when he held "marriage encounter groups" at Dominican premises in Watson, Canberra.

Monaghan was at the Brisbane parish when the story of Diana appeared in the media in October 1994.

After 1994, when he took early retirement from parish work, the Canberra-Goulburn kept listing "Rev. Gerard Monaghan" in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory as a "supplementary priest (retired)" of the Canberra-Goulburn diocese. These listings continued until Monaghan died in November 2010, aged 75.

'Human failures'

In November 2010, in an obituary about Monaghan, Canberra-Goulburn auxiliary bishop Patrick Power praised Monaghan. The bishop said: "He [Gerard Monaghan] was aware of his own human failures."

[Was this a reference to such failures as his treatment of Diana?]

Bishop Power also said that Gerard Monaghan "sought the forgiveness of anyone he may have hurt."

[But what if Diana still feels hurt about the way she was treated by Father Gerard Monaghan and by the church authorities?]