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Horrors of Aussie inquiry

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BRISBANE -- That the whimsical, sweet-natured, self-defeating comic creation Charlie Brown could be used by a pedophile to lure his victims is not the worst piece of evidence to come out of Australia's Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse.

A predator priest's creation of his own little "Brown family'' has provided one of the more poignant parables for a crime that so ruthlessly sabotages childhoods.

But the six-person royal commission, appointed by Australia's Gov. Gen. Quentin Bryce in January, will hear much worse before the task is completed in 2015.

A priest calling himself Fred Brown allegedly developed a cult-like following among a group of teenage girls way back in the 1960s.

The testimony of one of those long-ago girls, Joan Isaacs, now 60, drew audible gasps from the public gallery last week as she told the commission how one member of the group had "Fred Brown's" child.

The girls were told it was OK to have sex with a representative of God, the priest put fingers in her mouth during Holy Communion, and the whole sordid manipulation was underwritten by a comic character that might serve as the modern embodiment of childhood innocence.

"(He) used the Peanut comic as a platform and used the surname Brown in reference to himself, the other three children and me," Isaacs told the commission.

"He created a cult-like group, which included myself and three other children."

"Junkie," "Cass," and "Bas" Brown were all names used to subtly distance the girls from their own families, Isaacs realized in later years.

That the Catholic Church has legal representation at the hearing is right and proper, but barrister Peter Gray could have started off on better footing then quoting from the Bible.

"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the Kingdom of God belongs," Gray quoted from the Gospel according to Saint Mark.

Several in the public gallery walked out. One was heard to say: "What a joke."

Nothing inside this inquiry is a joke. Nothing heard, nothing said is even remotely amusing.

The fallout from years of sexual abuse, not just inside the Catholic Church but in so many institutions and charities, is exploding across Australia's landscape as people who suffered in silence for 40 years are finally given a voice.

And yet there are thousands more victims whose voices won't be heard at the inquiry and who know they have absolutely no right to use this forum as a pulpit.

Ordinary Catholic priests, the majority of whom were until recently sent from Ireland, have been social worker, therapist and spiritual guide to tens of millions of Australians for the past two centuries. The huge majority did their job with kindness, decency, integrity and a trait rarely seen as we move into the 21st century -- humility.

That so many suffered their own personal hell after being plucked from their schools by the church (which, like a 20th-century Google, went after the most talented) in their teens and sent to a harsh young nation with little appreciation for their contribution, are all realities most of them cope with -- and that stoic silence brands the breed.

But to be accused of harming a child -- as so many now are even in tottering old age as they walk innocently down the street in their pressed shirts with that telling crucifix on the collar -- is beyond comprehension to any thinking human being.

That sort of humiliation, which the most ignorant now think they can gleefully heap upon the most innocent, is another legacy of those people rightly branded as the worst type of criminal.

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 A15

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