Fr. Michael Machacek Photo from Bob Brehl

Bob Brehl: Toronto priest doesn’t pull any punches on clerical abuse

  • February 22, 2019

Even before Pope Francis called on bishops from around the globe to meet for a Vatican sex abuse summit, a Toronto priest was travelling to parishes to talk about the origins of and solutions to clergy abuse of minors.

Fr. Michael Machacek, pastor at The Nativity of Our Lord parish in Etobicoke, is neither a Church apologist nor a modern-day crusader like St. Paul spreading the good news.

“There is no good news when it comes to this,” 60-year-old Machacek laments. “As a priest, I’m pissed off. Our people are hurting and we’ve got to let them know we feel their pain. I’m simply sharing information to help give them hope.”

He has done a lot of research, gleaning facts from Canadian, U.S. and global reports about abuse within the Church and in society at large. Some interesting facts in his presentation:

• Eighty per cent of sexual abuse occurs in the home with perpetrators being either family members or friends of the family, and two-thirds of abusers were themselves victims when young;

• Canada is ground zero when it comes to uncovering clerical abuse against minors, specifically St. John’s, Nfld., in the 1980s with notorious former priest Jim Hickey and the Christian Brothers at Mount Cashel;

• Though 81 per cent of Church abuse victims were male, there is no direct link to homosexuality — indeed a large number of offending priests are heterosexual;

• The most common decade of birth of priest abusers was the 1930s, the most common decade of ordination was the 1960s;

• Psychologists have ruled out celibacy as a reason for abuse — child abusers are not interested in or capable of true adult sexual relations;

• Reported abuse cases peaked in first-world Catholic churches in 1980 and have fallen precipitously since.

His presentation is neither sanctioned by the Archdiocese of Toronto, nor has there been any pressure to stop. He did not seek approval from Cardinal Thomas Collins​. Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau did mention at a recent meeting that pastors should consider inviting Machacek to their parish.

Machacek pulls no punches when it comes to mistakes by Church leaders, including details about the so-called “bishops’ playbook” to conceal the truth about priest abusers. He details how sexual abuse of minors is a societal problem and certainly not limited to the Catholic Church. Earlier this month, for example, it was revealed that more than 200 Canadian coaches have been charged with abuse over the past two decades. In addition, the Houston Chronicle reported hundreds of sexual abusers worked within Southern Baptist churches over the last 20 years. 

Still, Machacek does not gloss over the horrors of the Catholic clergy, both in the despicable acts against vulnerable young people and the coverups and ploys by bishops after the fact.

“Things are better, but they’ve not been eradicated,” he says, in reference to North and South America and Europe. He warns about abuses in other parts of the Catholic world which have not yet been revealed.

He doesn’t point fingers at individual Church leaders, but does say mistakes continue, albeit not nearly as many as during the time of Pope John Paul II, when sexual abuse by priests peaked in the 1970s and ’80s.

When asked, for example, if St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson is fit to remain in office, Machacek said that is up to others, but facts are facts and the “bishops’ playbook” is a real thing. As the Pennsylvania Grand Jury reported in detail last August, the playbook involved various steps bishops followed, including: official denial, paying off victims for their silence, transferring abusers to other parishes, followed by Church silence and subterfuge.

In 2014, Carlson testified under oath that in the 1980s he may not have known if it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child. “I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not. I understand today it’s a crime,” Carlson said. He has not been publicly reprimanded and is still archbishop.

Like Pope Francis, Machacek points to clericalism as an important factor when it comes to abuser priests, “and not just sexual abuse but verbal and financial abuse” of parishioners and staff. He fears clericalism — priests viewing themselves as higher and more important — is actually increasing, especially with young priests.

Perhaps that is one reason some pastors have politely declined to have him speak to their parishioners. So far, he has given his presentation to nine parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto. That leaves more than 200 parishes in the archdiocese, and elsewhere, that would do well to invite Machacek to speak. 

(Brehl is a writer and author of many books.)

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