The sad news is filtering through about the death of Father Kevin Lee in last week’s massive typhoon in the Philippines.
This was no doubt a very great tragedy for his friends and especially his young family, with whom he had spent so little time.
Kevin saw his daughter Michelle born in late September, knew her for a few short weeks, and will never see her grow up. But he was satisfied and happy, writing prophetically in his blog,
“I am watching you Michelle and I never want to feel regret that I did not love you enough. I want to know that whatever happens, I am grateful to God and Josefina for giving me the best treasure in my life. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know how long I have with you. But.. every day…grateful … that you are my daughter…”
This terrible tragedy will also touch survivors around the country, as Father Lee was one of an extraordinarily rare breed. A catholic, and a priest, who eventually found the courage to put truth and justice before personal expediency and protecting the crimes and the criminals of his institution.
Father Kevin Lee was an Australian catholic priest who was in a loving and committed relationship with a woman.
It is not unusual for catholic priests to have sex with adult women. At least amongst those priests who are not gay or who don’t find it acceptable, convenient or exciting to rape children. What was unusual about this relationship was that it was consensual and loving, not abusive and exploitative.
If he had preyed upon a vulnerable young woman like so many of his colleagues, and forced her into both a sexual relationship and the secrecy made necessary by the catholic church’s celibacy requirement, he would have been in less trouble with the catholic hierarchy.
The point of the nonsensical celibacy rule is that, like in Orwell’s 1984, it is designed to be broken. Priests are human beings, very very far from divine and certainly not asexual. But once the celibacy rule is broken and the hierarchy or fellow priests have knowledge or evidence of it, they suddenly posses leverage, power and, most importantly, control over those who lapse in this way.
Consequences are threatened but rarely eventuate.
This blackmail, often mutual, is the oil which greases the many cogs of the Vatican machine.
You don’t tell my secrets and I won’t tell yours
It makes for some very strange bedfellows.
But Kevin went further. He committed what was, in the eyes of the hierarchy, a very great crime. A far more serious crime in their twisted thinking than raping thousands of children or vulnerable women and leaving behind a trail of immense suffering and death.
His heinous crime?
He married a woman. While still a priest.
Strangely enough, the earth didn’t open up and swallow him.
He got on with his role as a priest and did some good for his community. For a whole year. And no one noticed the difference.
Now to remain a “good priest” and a “good catholic”, all he had to do was to keep up the lie. As long as the deceit and the fiction is maintained, no one has a problem.
But Kevin chose to be a moral and authentic human being instead, and told the truth.
Only he didn’t stop at the fact he had been married for a year and it hadn’t interfered with his ability to perform his duties as a priest.
He also told the truth about the widespread criminal coverup of systemic child rape within the catholic church.
Any up to date, reasonable, responsible, well managed organisation would welcome the information provided by Kevin, assess what it meant and revise their policies and procedures accordingly.
But no one except the seriously deluded has ever accused the catholic church of being up to date, reasonable, responsible or well managed.
Instead church officials refused to listen to Kevin and kicked him to the curb.
Now they had every right to do that.
What he did was not wrong, evil or unlawful in any way. Quite the opposite.
But he broke their stupid, senseless rules and they grabbed at the opportunity to terminate him.
What makes this so sinister is the comparison with the fact that thousands of other priests serially, systemically, routinely break the law by raping, in many cases, stupendous numbers of defenceless children, ruining hundreds or even thousands of innocent lives each, but they suffer little or no consequences, and in some cases are promoted.
And this is still the case.
Australia has now provided numerous examples of priests being swiftly (for anyone, not just the glacially slow church machinery) evicted from their ministry and the church altogether for what amounts to, if we stick with the Orwellian 1984 theme, thoughtcrime.
Hold the wrong opinion, or even worse express it publicly, and a priest can expect the most stringent penalty in the canon law arsenal enacted with lightning speed.
We are not talking cruel, discriminatory, vicious opinions here. Rather we are talking about not supporting the Vatican’s political and power seeking agenda, the fantasy of papal infallibility, and the cruel, discriminatory, vicious dictates insisting on blind, mindless obedience to the immoral, harmful, impoverishing and perversely intrusive sexual, marital and reproductive policies of these out of touch, obscenely wealthy, dysfunctional, childless old singletons.
By comparison, if a priest destroys the lives of thousands of innocent children, including the murder of those who suicide from their assaults and subsequent mistreatment by deceitful officials, every excuse not to act will be rolled out, and every support and assistance provided to hide and protect the criminal and obstruct secular justice.
Look at this situation outside of the distorting effect of religious belief. Is this a world you want to live in, where this is what routinely happens, is widely acknowledged to happen and yet no-one in power does anything to change it, or even thinks they should? Do we really live in a democracy? Do we really have rule of law? Or are we already in a vicious theocracy by stealth?
Kevin Lee was not prepared to live in that world. He tried, using the power of the truth, to change it.
And it has changed. Thanks to Kevin, along with the efforts of so many others, we now have a National Royal Commission investigating the handling of child rape in the catholic church and other institutions.
I certainly hope before he died Kevin had a chance to give his evidence to the Royal Commission. Or perhaps they can question the officials, including Cardinal George Pell, to whom he reported his evidence.
Though what are the chances of Pell actually telling the Royal Commission what Kevin told him?
I can hear another few hundred “I can’t recall” moments coming on.
The battle is not won yet. Those same church officials who ignored Kevin’s evidence will try to hide the truth, undermine the Royal Commission’s efforts, and lobby to ensure no recommendations are implemented.
For those who are, like Kevin was, ministers of the catholic church and have knowledge about the coverup of these very serious crimes, now is the time to honour Kevin, and the victims and survivors, by continuing the fight to let the truth be known by the Royal Commission. To let an understanding of the full truth shape how we deal with this issue in the future.
The strategy, quoted by so many who consider themselves “good” priests or bishops, as a reason for staying put and keeping quiet, to try to “change the system from within” will never work.
Because unless you are part of the hierarchy, unless you are listened to and exert influence in the corridors of Rome, you are not really on the inside.
You are one of a cheap and largely powerless labour force, treated with utter contempt by those with real power, and used to milk as much money as possible from, and usurp the moral authority of, the mindless millions of lay catholics.
You are on the bottom of a pyramid of narcissists and sociopaths, who will never let people less cruelly self absorbed, less damaged or less obsessively ambitious than themselves climb the ladders of influence, nepotism and corruption.
But you are also likely to be a witness to many serious crimes.
You may have been told that to fight the church’s inquisitors and face down criticism for others’ actions is courageous and honest.
But the catholic church does not value courage or honesty. It punishes them.
It perverts them and mislabels them. Calling the cowardly brave and the liar an honest man.
Now is the time to utilise these very real, very human attributes.
Now is the time to rediscover your humanity.
Now is the time to stand up to the bullies and the liars and the criminals.
Now is the time to tell the truth.
Just like Kevin Lee did.
RIP, and thank you, Kevin.
Stay safe everyone.