Efforts to brand the newly canonized St. Mary MacKillop as the "Patron Saint of Whistleblowers in the Church,” are inaccurate and wrong, according to the nun responsible for advancing her sainthood cause.
News media coverage of the Oct. 17 canonization focused almost exclusively on claims made by clergy sexual abuse victims that the new saint had once been excommunicated for exposing abuses by an Irish priest working in Australia.
That claim is false, Sister Maria Casey, RSJ, told Vatican Radio, Oct. 15. “To set the record straight: she herself did not denounce the priest, she was 2,000 miles away when the events were reported."
MacKillop was in fact excommunicated for five months in 1871 by her bishop. But that issue was only “indirectly” related to the Irish priest, she said. At the root of the excommunication was a disagreement over how her new religious order should be governed. The excommunication was lifted after five months in 1872.
Sister MacKillop's fellow Josephite sisters had reported the abuses by Father Patrick Keating to the order's co-founder, Father Julian Tenison Woods. He in turn made a report to the vicar general of the diocese. After an investigation, Father Keating was removed from his post and sent back to Ireland.
According to Sister Casey, Father Charles Horan, a friend of Father Keating, was angered by the situation and vowed revenge against both Father Woods and the Josephite sisters.
He and other Irish priests serving in Australia began a campaign of slander and false accusations against Sister MacKillop, the head of the Josephites at the time. The slanders included charges that the future saint had a drinking problem and was mismanaging the affairs of her religious order.
This, and not her direct involvement in the abuse case, led to her excommunication by Bishop Lawrence Shiel. According to Sister Casey, the excommunication was only "indirectly" connected to the abuse scandal. It was "indirectly because misinformation about other matters were then fed to the bishop," she explained.
Bishop Shiel lifted his ban on Sister MacKillop receiving communion five months later, after learning that there was no truth behind the charges.
Sister Casey criticized efforts by victims’ advocacy groups to label the new saint as “patron of whistleblowers” as too "reductive." While St. Mary MacKillop "would have been very in tune" with the suffering and the needs of abuse victims, her concerns were much broader, she said.
Given her lifelong commitment to education of the poor and especially young women, a more apt title for St. Mary MacKillop would be "the Patroness ... of the dignity of all people."
The new saint is known across Australia for her great work with the poor and the education of their children. The order she co-founded with Father Woods, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, continues to carry out her mission today in Australia and abroad.