Media outlets twisted the story of Bl. Mary MacKillop to say she was excommunicated for exposing a priest who sexually abused children, the postulator for her canonization cause is charging. He feared the misleading coverage was an attempt to undermine the Church and distract the public before Australia’s first official saint is canonized on Oct. 17.
ABC Online and Fairfax newspapers in Australia last month said that she was excommunicated from the Church in 1871 because she had exposed a Kapunda priest’s abuse of children in South Australia. The claims were based on remarks made by Fr. Paul Gardiner in a documentary made for ABC TV’s “Compass” program.
Both Fr. Gardiner and Rose Hesp, the executive producer of “Compass,” deny they made such an inference in the program, which airs on Sunday.
Fr. Gardiner, chaplain of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, said the claims were false. According to The Australian, he is considered Australia’s foremost authority on the history of the saint-to-be and was postulator for her canonization cause.
"Early in 1870, the scandal occurred and the Sisters of Saint Joseph reported it to Father Tenison Woods, but Mary was in Queensland and no one was worried about her," Fr. Gardiner told The Australian.
"There was a long chain of causation. Somehow or other, somebody typed it up as if to say I said Mary MacKillop was the one to report the sex abuse," he continued. "I never said it -- it's just false -- it's the ill will of people who are anxious to see something negative about the Catholic Church. There's already enough mud to throw, though."
Bl. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated in late 1871 during a dispute with a local bishop concerning the governance of her order. The excommunication was lifted in early 1872.