The Antipodes

Fr Mark Paterson

At 11am yesterday a good and holy priest was finally vindicated at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. Between 2002 and 2004 Fr Mark Paterson O. Carm. was the much loved Catholic Chaplain of Aberdeen University. When he took over as chaplain, the Catholic Society had one member left. By the time he left, the Chaplaincy was the centre of missionary activity in the University. The Catholic Society had hundreds of members, and the wheels were in motion to restore the Mass in the Mediaeval Chapel. He rose before dawn every day to adore the Blessed Sacrament and devoted many hours every week to visiting the homeless and dispensing the sacraments to the sick in hospital.

All of this came to an end in 2004 when he was pulled out of Aberdeen as a result of bizarre allegations of sexual assault. No one believed a word of it, and unfortunately his lawyer neglected to prepare properly for his trial and failed to precognose defence witnesses who were identified to him and other important steps in advance of the trial, the result being that he received an unfair trial. The advocate representing him in court having no ammunition with which to cross-examine the crown witnesses, their evidence went virtually unchallenged. The Sheriff (the Judge in the lower court in Scotland) decided to hold the trial mostly in camera and then found Fr Paterson guilty. The guilty verdict was so unexpected that Fr Paterson’s advocate and the Procurator Fiscal who conducted the Crown case could not reconcile the verdict with the evidence as presented in the court. After he pronounced the fateful words the Sheriff discernibly hesitated at the dropped jaws of those present in the court. It is hardly surprising that Fr Paterson’s defence team advised him that he had no grounds of appeal against his conviction as the main plank of any appeal a would have to be their own incompetence.

Thanks be to God, a retired solicitor in Aberdeen, Mr Gerald Cunningham, laboured for no reward for seven years to reverse this gross miscarriage of justice. Fighting to prove the incompetence of Fr Paterson’s defence and he then discovered a new witness who could prove that the key corroborating witness was the victim of such extreme brainwashing by the accuser that she no longer knows her own name. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission conducted a thorough investigation of the inadequacies of the defence team, the undisclosed defence evidence and the new evidence and recommended a re-examination of the conviction by the High Court in Edinburgh. On the third day of proceedings, this Thursday morning, the Crown threw in the towel and the Judges took just seconds to decide to quash the conviction that has afflicted Fr Paterson for eight long years.

The other day, I went to Australia on business, as one does. (Now, this is only my third time outside Europe, and I have never been so far away, or on the southern hemisphere at all, so I was reasonably excited about it.)

Through a concatenation of planning failures on the part of various parties, I ended up in Canberra with three more days to stay and no plans of what to do. The current Plan B (or C) had suddenly come to nought due to my guidebook cheerfully asserting that German driving licences were valid in Australia – true – but omitting the fact that you need an official translation into English to go with them (or else an International Driving Licence, in English). I could have got one easily, earlier on, if any of the many Germans experienced in travelling, and driving, in Australia, and to whom I talked about my rather spontaneous plan of hiring a car, had mentioned this interesting fact. As it was, I had just spent several hours well into the night planning the details of my trip for the next day when I became aware of the complication. Having spent another hour or so trying to find ways around it, and failing, I was quite distraught: There I was, in Australia, maybe for the only time in my life, and for the want of a nail, as it were, I was condemned to spend my time in probably the least exciting city of Australia.

Now, I was probably somewhat unfair on Canberra. They are really quite good at monumental official architecture, even though the German in me has to stifle some internal trauma stirring inside to properly appreciate it. (And this photograph of the War Memorial does not capture the whole thing at its best.)

Now, I was probably somewhat unfair on Canberra. They are really quite good at monumental official architecture, even though the German in me has to stifle some internal trauma stirring inside to properly appreciate it. (And this photograph of the War Memorial does not capture the whole thing at its best.)


They also have one of the tallest fountains in the world there (147 meters). All the more impressive in such a dry place. (Do not be fooled by the green you see: apperently this lushness is unusual even for spring.)

Aelianus, who, unluckily for him, was on Skype at that time, had the questionable privilege of having the situation explained to him, with all concomitant complications and complexities and interspersed with exclamations of utter despair and frustration, via Skype messaging (I had left my headset at home). After making a number of constructive suggestions (such as sending me the link of the Canberra TLM people’s blog, and telling me to visit Mr. Abbot and convince him that what he needs most is to hire me), Aelianus finally said that I just had to focus on the fact that, for some reason, God wanted me to be in Canberra on Sunday – maybe I would meet really interesting people to talk to at church. “I never meet people at church”, I protested, “and how utterly boring would it be to spend my time talking to people when there is so much Australia around to explore!”


So much exciting Australia all around!

However, the thought gradually sunk into me that, actually, it should be possible to trust in Providence in what was, if you really looked at it objectively, not the single most important and dramatic thing ever happening to me in this life. With some internal grumbling I finally achieved some sort of resignation – most likely, I thought, I would have died in a terrible accident after hitting a kangaroo if I had made the scheduled trip with the hired car. As it turned out, however, Aelianus had spoken in an eerily prophetic way…

To be continued tomorrow.