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Home » God bothering » Born again athiests » Jo Chandler, the Catholic Church, paedophile priests and the suicide of the mentally ill

Jo Chandler, the Catholic Church, paedophile priests and the suicide of the mentally ill

Sadly during my life I have lost one  good friend to suicide and helped prevent the same end for another person I cared about. Its never as simple as many want to suggest to prevent people taking their own lives. Nor is it easy to pinpoint the reasons that they develop the self-destructive ideation. The fact that mental illnesses like clinical depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have a high suicide rates and that these are all organic disorders of the brain should stop people seeking to  attribute  external triggers like sexual abuse all of the blame for the subsequent death of these unfortunate individuals. Don’t get me wrong I am not seeking to make excuses for or to downplay the pernicious evil any kind of sexual abuse but to use the suicide of the mentally ill as a tool to emphasise the gravity of the abuse is likely to ignore the fact that sexual predators do not choose their victims at random.

Thus I find the latest piece from the Age’s senior writer Jo Chandler both incredibly patronising and disingenuously misrepresenting the nature of mental illnesses like schizophrenia. (my bold in quote)

Jo Chandler Photo: Penny Stephens

It emerged he had been abused.

”And then he told me that if I told a soul he would kill himself.”

The roller-coaster of illness, madness, anger, absence and homecomings continued, punctuated by suicide attempts. Ms Watson gradually pieced together the story – it was not until very late that Peter confided the identity of his attacker – and tried to get psychiatric help for her son.

Then one day in March 1999 he was finally given a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He told the medical staff he was just going to move his car. He was never seen again. He was 24.

”I never stopped looking,” Helen Watson says. For six years she was left wondering what became of him, though she was almost certain he was dead.

In fact his body was found hanging in a boat shed in Aspendale late in 1999. Police couldn’t put a name to it, and he was buried as a John Doe.

But the case preyed on one of the police officers, Rod Owen. When some new fingerprint technology arrived, he tried it out on the records from the body in the boatshed, and came up with a match. Ms Watson finally got the knock at the door she had wished for and dreaded.


There is no doubt that many people who are abused carry the scars for the rest of their lives and I for one thank God that I am an atheist who will never let the God-botherers anywhere near my children not because I am worried about sexual abuse but because I don’t want my children to develop an irrational belief in the supernatural. that said I have my doubts that the recently announced inquiry into priestly abuse of children in Victoria will achieve anything of substance. Of course there are those like our regular commentator Craigy who will both welcome the piece of political show and tell and denounce its impotence. My problems with any of this sort of thing is the inherent  difficulty in proving the relevant allegations because they essentially boil down to verbal conflict  between the accuser and the accused with almost no evidence other than the competing testimonies. A legal can of worms in other words. Add to that the time between the alleged abuse and those crimes being reported (if they have been reported at all) and any possibility  of justice seen to be done becomes rather remote.

Of course none of this matters to the author of this rather dull attempt at pulling the heat strings of the Age’s readers. Jo Chandler clearly does not care about those with self-destructive mental illness who would be just as likely to self harm even if every priest was taken out and made to emulate the fate of their saviour and every building and church entity were reduced to rubble. The underlying subtext here is just the same as  that which were evident in Chandler’s sneering piece about Mary Mckillop Ah well it makes a change from the last few pieces from the Sandpit’s favourite senior writer at the Age where she has just rehashed the opinions of Fuzzy Wuzzy bloggers about their dysfunctional democracy. Still it makes me wonder just why she keeps her job at the Age and what qualifies anyone to be a “senior” writer for Fairfax.

Cheers Comrades


  1. Ray Dixon says:

    Actually Iain, I agree and disagree with you on this Chandler piece. Firstly I think she is right (for once – I mean, even a stuck clock …) to point out how the abuse of this kid led to his mental destruction. There are many triggers for schizophrenia including trauma, stress and, of course, marijuana. In this case it looks like all 3 triggers were present but what first set him off was that ‘sleepover’ blue movies & booze night when that creep of a priest allegedly assaulted him. Put yourself in that kid’s shoes, Iain – you’d never recover from that.

    I’m not a Catholic basher, like Craigy & Chandler are, but I reckon the Church, and especially the Catholic Church, is as guilty as all hell for covering up these abuses and should face a full Royal Commission. That’s the only way to get it all out. If it ruins the Church then so be it, they brought it on themselves. There can no more vile crime than the betrayal of the trust and the abuse of the young and vulnerable.

    Secondly though, I agree with you that Chandler seems to have a big hate thing going with the Catholic Church that is not unlike these ‘fine words’ expressed by one ‘Bridgit Gread’:

    Frassati’s visit recalls memories of the High Middle Ages, when stupid pious Catholics trudged tirelessly around Europe trying to catch a glimpse of Saint Peter’s foreskin, Mary’s breastmilk or one of Christ’s arse-hairs left clinging to the true cross. Fortunately today we live in a more enlightened and scientific age, so stupid pious Catholics will now be able to catch public transport.

    Charming stuff.

  2. songtothesirens says:

    Informative. i, for one, was not raised with a religious background. At the age of 37, I became Buddhist, and it is our belief that there is nothing external, It is all internal. We have no one to blame for our actions and their effects but ourselves. Therefore, If I choose (keyword here is “choose”) to commit suicide, it is an action taken solely by me. Now, there may be external stressors, but, ultimately it is my action and my effect. It is like tossing a pebble into a pond. The ripples spread until they stop.

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