Sister Mary MacKillop will be canonized this month for her extraordinary efforts helping the poor and founding a religious order under tough circumstances, but her experience dealing with sexual abuse is propelling followers to anoint her as the patron saint of sexual abuse victims. Since the abuse happened in the church it makes her life story connect with victims and helps represent the modern day struggle that leaders are engaged in overcoming and extricating abuse out of the church.
Sister Mary MacKillop exposed a Catholic priest of sex abuse in a parish in Australia in 1870. After she revealed that children were being abused by Father Patrick Keating in a nearby parish, she was excommunicated from the church.
Humiliated by the accusation, Father Keating took revenge on Sister MacKillop as she was officially excommunicated, banished from the church and denied sacrament, by Bishop Sheil, a friend of Father Keating. Sister MacKillop’s revelation came at a time in the church’s history when church leaders did not want to hear the truth and face the problem of abuse in the church. As a result, it was easier to punish Sister MacKillop, with contempt and strong opposition that eventually resulted in her excommunication.
With Sister MacKillop’s recent canonization, victims of sex abuse, their friends and families now can pray to her for reconciliation and healing. Sister MacKillop has clearly shown an understanding of the pain and suffering they endured. The church’s decision to canonize Sister MacKillop shows a great deal of hope and healing for the church and victims of sexual abuse. The decision also shows the necessity of addressing and preventing the crimes of abuse head on, and the wisdom showed by the church in it’s ability to recognize and atone for its mistakes.
Sister MacKillop inspires us with a life that was heroic, full and holy. Her story illustrates a remarkable life: she established an Australian religious order, taught children, worked with the poor and lived a holy life. She stood up for victims of abuse, when the price to pay was so dear, membership to the church that she loved.
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