Mother Mary MacKillop: Patron Saint of Whistleblowers?

That's what they're calling Australia's first native-born saint-to-be after it was revealed that the outspoken nun and co-founder of a religious teaching order denounced a priest for sexually abusing children, an event that contributed to her excommunication for five months.From my story on the events as recounted in an ABC (Australia broadcasting) documentary:

"The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children," Father Paul Gardiner, the official advocate for MacKillop's canonization, says in the documentary.Gardiner said that when MacKillop's complaints led at least one priest to be disciplined, one of his fellow priests "was so angry with this that he swore vengeance." The priest, Father Charles Horan, used his influence with Bishop Sheil to have MacKillop excommunicated."Priests being annoyed that somebody had uncovered it -- that would probably be the way of describing it -- and being so angry that the destruction of the Josephites [MacKillop's order] was decided on," Father Gardiner told ABC.

Father Jim Martin has insights on why whistleblowers and women are later seen as saints, and the Religion News Service piece is also comprehensive.Again, it is an open question at best as to whether this key episode in the religious life of Blessed Mary MacKillop will be cited at her canonization on Oct. 17. John Henry Newman's problems with church authorities were not exactly highlighted at his beatification. But the thing about popular devotion is that the populace has its say, too.

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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