An archbishop excused this priest's pastoral abuse

By a Broken Rites researcher

In early 2010 the international media became interested in how the Catholic hierarchy has traditionally "managed" the problem of church sexual abuse. As a case-study, this Broken Rites article examines how the Sydney archdiocese handled a priest (Father Terence Goodall) who allegedly sexualised his pastoral relationships.

Medical practitioners and psychiatrists are not allowed to sexualise their relationship with their patients. And, publicly at least, the Australian Catholic bishops claim that their priests are not supposed to sexualise their pastoral relationships.

The church's "Towards Healing" protocol says: "Clergy and religious are in a special position of trust and authority in relation to those who are in their pastoral care, e.g., those in their parish, people seeking advice, students at a Catholic school. Any attempt to sexualise a pastoral relationship is a breach of trust, an abuse of authority and professional misconduct."

According to Church documents, Sydney priest Father Terence Goodall sexualised two of his pastoral relationships:

  1. He allegedly sexualised his pastoral relationship with a 10-year-old altar boy (let us call him "Basil") in 1973; and
  2. He allegedly sexualised his pastoral relationship with a Catholic teacher of religious studies (Anthony), who had been seeking Goodall's advice and guidance. These incidents, in January 1982, occurred after Anthony attended Mass at Goodall's parish. Anthony says he immediately reported the incidents to the church authorities (that is, in 1982) but his complaint was ignored.

Both cases allegedly involved indecent touching of the victim's genitals.

After the church established its Professional Standards office (promising to act against church sexual abuse), both Basil (the former altar boy) and Anthony complained to the PSO about Goodall's conduct. The PSO appointed a private investigator, Howard Murray, who reported to Sydney's archbishop in 2003 that both these complaints of priestly pastoral misbehaviour were sustained.

The archbishop adopted the finding regarding the former altar boy but he told Anthony (incorrectly) that the investigator had not sustained Anthony's complaint. The archbishop also told Anthony (incorrectly) that there had been no other sex-abuse complaints about Father Goodall and he also asserted (incorrectly) that Anthony had given "consent" to Goodall.

Rebuffed by this exoneration of Goodall's pastoral abuse, Anthony therefore reported the incidents to the police, who then charged Goodall with indecent touching of Anthony. The police obtained an admission from Goodall that Anthony had not consented. Goodall pleaded guilty in court to a charge of indecent assault and was convicted in 2005.

Thus it was the police and the courts (not the Archbishop of Sydney) who provided moral leadership in the Goodall case.

The Goodall criminal court case

In the 1970s and '80s, Father Terence Norman Goodall was prominently associated with Sydney's Catholic seminary in Manly, where he helped to train the next generation of Catholic leadership. At weekends, he said Mass at suburban churches, mixing with the laity.

In Sydney District Court in January 2005, Father Goodall, 64, pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a Catholic layman (Anthony) who was as teacher of religion in Catholic schools.

The incident occurred in January 1982, after Father Goodall (then aged 41) invited Anthony (a devout Catholic, then aged 29) to attend Goodall's evening Mass at Gymea parish. As a religion teacher, it was part of Anthony's job to network with priests. Anthony felt honoured to meet a priest who was prominent at the seminary.

The court was told that, after mass, Goodall lent Anthony a pair of swimming briefs and took him swimming at a public pool. While in the water, Terence Goodall indecently touched Anthony's genitals but Anthony swam away from Goddall, rejecting the advance.

Anthony alleged that, later, at the presbytery, while Anthony was changing out of his swimmers, the naked priest pushed Anthony on to a bed. The priest then pressed his own penis against Anthony's private parts, Anthony alleged. Anthony alleged that Goodall said he was looking for a same-sex relationship to have "on the quiet" with someone.

Anthony told police that he did not invite these actions. As a devout Catholic and as a religion teacher in Catholic schools, he was over-awed by the power and authority of the priest.

The victim reported the abuse to senior church officials the next day, but the church took no action against Goodall who continued in his seminary role for years.

In 2002 (when Goodall was in charge of Blakehurst parish), public discussion in Australia about church sex-abuse prompted Anthony to lodge an official complaint with the church's Professional Standards Resource Office ("Towards Healing"). The "Towards Healing" investigator, Howard Murray, upheld Anthony's complaint about Goodall's breach of pastoral ethics.

However, in mid-2003, the Sydney Archbishop reversed the investigator's finding and wrote to Anthony, rejecting Anthony's complaint about sexual abuse.

Disillusioned by Towards Healing, Anthony then sought justice by contacting police. The court was told that police recorded a phone conversation between Anthony and Goodall, during which Goodall admitted that he had done wrong and that he had taken advantage of the victim. Next, police raided the Sydney Archdiocesan offices and seized documents relating to the incidents. During these investigations, Goodall suddenly took early retirement from the ministry. He eventually pleaded guilty to indecent assault.

In an impact statement, tabled in court, Anthony said he was distressed not only by the sexual abuse but also by the archdiocese's protection of Goodall and by the way the church authorities handled his complaint. This cover-up undermined his faith in the church, he said.

Judge Bell said the fact that the victim swam away after being fondled in the pool "should have indicated these advances were not welcome".

Judge Bell commented: "How do you sentence a priest who has departed from the moral standards expected of a priest? We're not just dealing with an ordinary, run-of-the-mill occupation; we're dealing with someone who, by virtue of his occupation, is in a position of trust in the community."

The judge also said: "After the [assaults] there was an emotional reaction by the victim in terms of betrayal ... and he has since been extremely disillusioned about how it has been handled [by the church] and how he has been treated," he said.

Goodall's lawyer asked for a good-behaviour bond, with no conviction recorded, but Judge Bell ordered that a conviction be recorded. The judge noted Goodall's admissions in the taped phone call and he said Terrence Goodall had abused his position of power, causing significant emotional harm to his victim. He sentenced Goodall to a short term of imprisonment until the rising of the court — enough of a penalty to make it impossible for the church to continue its protection of Goodall.

A public relations disaster for the church authorities

After Goodall's criminal conviction, Anthony sought to obtain justice by launching a claim for compensation from the Sydney Archdiocese. But the archdiocese showed no compassion and its lawyers fought Anthony ferociously, threatening to send him broke by involving Anthony in huge legal costs. Finally, by early July 2008, the church had forced Anthony to abandon his legal action.

The ending of this civil action meant that in early July 2008 the media was, at last, able to gain access to the church documents that had been tabled during the action. These documents revealed to the public, for the first time, the story of how the Sydney archdiocese had told Anthony (incorrectly) that there had been no other sex-abuse complaint against Father Goodall and how the archdiocese had reversed the finding of its own investigator, Howard Murray, about Anthony's complaint. It was also the story of Anthony's struggle to obtain justice from a powerful corporation, the Sydney Archdiocese.

The church's defeat of Anthony ended up being a public relations disaster for the church authorities. The result is summed up in an article , by religious affairs writer Dr Muriel Porter, in the Melbourne Age on 11 July 2008. To read the Muriel Porter article, click HERE.