The strength of the Fosters

As George Pell left the meeting, he looked at the Fosters and said: “If you don’t like what we are doing, take us to court.”

Pell had arranged to meet Chrissie and Anthony Foster in the furniture storage room of a Melbourne presbytery. He forced them to squeeze onto a narrow bench. He sat in a padded chair.

The Fosters’ two daughters had been the victims of terrible abuse. They had been serially raped by a priest whose abuse the church had concealed and facilitated for decades.

The Fosters would lose one daughter to suicide; the other incapacitated after a car accident related to her trauma. Still, the church made every effort to refuse compensation. In court they denied abuse they knew had taken place.

In the meeting, Pell offered a tokenistic settlement. He was shown pictures of one of the Fosters’ daughter’s self-harm. “Hmmm,” he said. “She’s changed, hasn’t she?”

Next week, Anthony Foster will be given a state funeral for his advocacy of the rights of victims such as his daughters. George Pell waits to learn if he will be charged for the alleged sexual abuse of young boys.

The Fosters changed the understanding of clergy abuse in this country. They were untiring in their advocacy – decent, subtle, humane.

In 2008, they sought to meet the then pope on a trip to Sydney. Anthony Fisher, who replaced Pell as Archbishop of Sydney, dismissed victims seeking the meeting as “dwelling crankily … on old wounds”.

Last year, the Fosters travelled to Rome to confront Pell as the cardinal gave evidence to the royal commission. Anthony Foster held Pell’s hand and told him he was a broken man. He held a picture of his daughters as children and said to the world’s media: “These are my girls. A Catholic priest was raping them when this photo was taken. This was my perfect family. We created that. The Catholic Church destroyed it.”

Earlier, he had told an inquiry that Pell had a “sociopathic lack of empathy”. It is hard to disagree.

The church was a bastion of cruelty for the Fosters. Their trust was disfigured by the treatment of their children. In Anthony Foster was the good that so many in the church’s hierarchy lacked. He fought an unfeeling institution and won. His death by stroke is a great loss and a great injustice.

“Anthony campaigned tirelessly for justice from the Catholic Church. He fought evil acts that were shamefully denied and covered up,” the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said when announcing his state funeral.

“He and Chrissie lost so much, but never their dignity, grace and strength. Anthony won’t be forgotten, and the fight for justice goes on.”


Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 1800 099 340

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 3, 2017 as "The strength of the Fosters".

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