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Review: ABC's 'Revelation' Necessary To Bear Witness

Brigid Delany, The Guardian, 17 March 2020

The first episode of the three-part documentary Revelation is built around such an interview. ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson sits down with Fr Vincent Ryan (yes he is still a priest, yet to be defrocked despite his horrendous crimes against children) and tries to answer all these questions.

Ryan is 80 now and has been accused of sexually abusing more than 30 boys aged from six to 17 from 1975 until 1995.

He was jailed for 14 years for his crimes in 1997 and last year he was tried on two new charges. These charges form the backbone of the documentary – for the first time during an Australian criminal trial, the film-makers were allowed to film.

As well as interviewing Ryan (who pleaded not guilty), Ferguson speaks to two of the victims, the prosecution and defence barristers, as well as a psychiatrist who specialised in treating priests.

Be warned – you’ll need a strong stomach to digest it. Like, for example, Ryan’s justification for molestation: “As far as I was concerned, I was in a relationship. I was getting the love and the human touch and belonging.”

And then there’s the central crime itself. The victims – courageous men of strength and grace – tell us what happened to them.

They don’t spare us with the details, and why should they? Part of the problem, as the documentary points out, is that shame abounds. The victims suffer twice: from the act itself and then the silence and stigma after it.

The victims were young altar boys. What alternate moral universe was Ryan living in? It was the universe of the Catholic church, a corrupt institution that moved paedophile priests around to avoid scandal, conveniently giving them a batch of fresh victims in each new parish; an institution that saw the children as “instruments of temptation” rather than the innocent victims they were.

Revelation starts off strange, becomes upsetting and is, finally, shocking. In some ways it mimics the mechanics of a jury trial: we, at home, hear all sides. There is no room for politeness or euphemism. The whole nasty, sorry business is laid out before us, and it’s hard to remain with it, but there is a strong feeling that we must bear witness.

The detail of the abuse is horrendous and I wish I hadn’t heard it. But maybe as someone raised Catholic and still has some cultural affinity with the Irish branch of the church, I needed to.

Read The Guardian review here

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