A priest from the Sydney archdiocese jailed in 2010 for using the internet to groom a 13 year old for sexual purposes has apologised to his fellow priests for having besmirched the image of the Catholic priesthood for the “many good faithful clergy”.
In a letter published in the latest issue of the The Swag, the quarterly journal of the National Council of Priests, Fr Robert Fuller writes that his offence “confirmed in the minds of many people images of clergy that they long held and which the many good faithful clergy continue to suffer for the actions of the few”.
“My actions added to their burden and increased their suffering as well as dismissed the efficiency of their good works and words,” the letter says.
Apologising for the pain caused by his actions and expressing his regret, though, was the secondary purpose of his letter; the primary purpose was to thank those who, in the spirit of the story in the Gospel of St John about the adulterous woman brought before Jesus by Pharisees, “did not cast the first stone.”
“This non-action, as I said about the actions of Jesus, does not mean support for my actions. They have all expressed their abhorrence and their total disagreement, as well as confoundedness as to why I behaved in such an inappropriate manner,” Fr Fuller writes.
“In one of his novels, GK Chesterton, through the character of Fr Brown, tells us: ‘It is easy to forgive those whose sins we think we might commit – it is much harder to forgive those sins we think we will never or could never commit. This is the sign of the true Christian.’
“For this, I thank the support of the priests who, while suffering, because of my actions, never abandoned me or cast stones. I want to repeat this is not agreeing with or accepting my action was permissible – it was and can never be seen in any other light than a criminal action and morally wrong.”
The letter also expresses gratitude to “the many people, former parishioners and a good number of non-Catholics who have also never cast any stones. They too suffered the pains of disillusionment, anger, frustration and barbs from enemies of the Church. And for their actions which allowed God’s love to shine on me I will always be indebted.”
Fr Fuller was arrested in August 2009 in a Parramatta carpark where he had arranged to meet a 13 year old girl, who was in fact an undercover police officer with the Child Exploitation Internet Unit. The police tendered evidence that in the preceding two months he had had 25 internet chats with the “girl”, which were sexually explicit and included him masturbating in front of a webcam.
“Adults might not like us to meet because I’m too old for you,” the 54 year old wrote in one message. “I have not dated someone so young.” He told the court the conversations were part of a fantasy and he did not really believe the girl was 13.
He was sentenced in February 2010 to 18 months in jail for grooming and procuring a child under the age of 16, but given a six month parole period and six months off his sentence for his early guilty plea.