‘I’m not a used car salesman’: Can the archbishop chart a new course?

Comensoli Clergy Sexual Abuse

Title: ‘I’m not a used car salesman’: Can the archbishop chart a new course?

Author: Farrah Tomazin

Publisher: The Age

Date: 10MAY2020

After almost two years as Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli remains an elusive figure to many Catholics, and a study in contrasts to the wider public.

It’s August 2018, and Peter Comensoli is standing on a stage in a packed city restaurant, daring to do something none of his predecessors have ever done: subject himself to the scrutiny of the Melbourne Press Club.

After a wide-ranging speech, the newly installed Archbishop of Melbourne agrees to take questions.

That’s when he meets Eileen Piper, then 93, brandishing a large photograph of her dead daughter lying in her coffin.

Stephanie Piper was 32 when she killed herself in 1994, after informing authorities that she had been raped and assaulted as a child by Father Gerard Mulvale, a priest from the Catholic Pallottine order.

But as Piper’s lawyer, Judy Courtin, told Comensoli that day, the church concluded she was lying, “slut-shaming” her until “Stephanie could take it no more”. Now her mother was urging the new Archbishop to conduct a review in the hope of finding the truth.

A visibly moved Comensoli listened intently as the story was told. He made no promises that day but a few months later, in a highly unusual move, initiated an independent inquiry headed by former chief justice Marilyn Warren. It found in Stephanie’s favour.

Last December, Comensoli sent Eileen Piper a letter of apology. After 26 years, a determined mother had finally cleared her daughter’s name.

Some observers point to this story as emblematic of a much-needed shift in the Melbourne Archdiocese, now led by a “new generation” bishop who seems prepared to do things differently.

Others, however, are yet to be convinced that he’s done enough, or that the change in leadership will spark genuine improvements in an institution so stubbornly resistant to reform.

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