Four victims of child abuse along with their supporters stormed out of a public hearing at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse after the legal representative of the Catholic Church quoted the Bible in his opening address.
The commission intended to hear testimonies from four victims of abuse and gather evidence against members of the Church over the course of two weeks. Prior to the hearing, the victims had sought redress through Towards Healing, a body that was established by the Church in 1996 to address complaints of abuse by members of its clergy. On December 9, an inquiry revealed that the Catholic Church had paid approximately $43 million in compensation to the victims because it wanted to restrict damage rather than address the needs of those that had been violated.
In her opening address, Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the commission, described the process that Towards Healing was supposed to follow after receiving a complaint of sexual abuse and how the organization had failed to act in accordance. “It is acknowledged that people will experience this process differently depending upon, among other matters, their understanding of the process and their expectations,” said Furness. She also mentioned that the highest payout by Towards Healing had been clocked at $853,000.
On the other hand, Peter Gray, representative of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, opened his statement by quoting a passage from the Bible, compelling those present in the hearing room to storm out. “Many will remember, from their own childhoods, the ageless words from the gospel of Mark. ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the kingdom of God belongs,’” said Gray.
The survivors of abuse along with other members of Care Leavers Australia Network stormed out of the room, some of them in tears.
The Catholic Church “Just Don’t Get It”
Trish Charter spoke to reporters outside the commission and said that the words were crushing and she could not hear any further. “We've tried all of our lives to be so strong. I could not sit there and be further abused by this verbal insensitivity that the Catholic church is determined on. Mr Gray is just saying something he's been told to say. How insensitive, how absolutely lacking in compassion these people are in their dealings,” she said.
Speaking to Guardian Australia, Leonie Sheedy, co-founder of Clan, an advocacy network for those who grew up in Australian childcares, said they wanted honesty from the hearing, not platitudes. “The Catholic Church's opening statement to the Royal Commission shows how they just don't get it. Every organization that ran an orphanage needs to apologize publicly. I'm sick of apologies to websites,” she said.
Grey continued with his opening statement, telling the commission that the Church was aware of its failures and that multiple cover-ups had taken place over the years. He said, “Too often in the past it is clear some church leaders gave too high a priority to protecting the reputation of the church, its priests, religious and other personnel, over the protection of children and their families, and over compassion and concern for those who suffered at the hands of church personnel.”
Since 1996, 2,215 Complaints Received
In his attempt to defend Towards Healing, Gray described the organization as a breakthrough in Australia. “In no other country had the church developed a single national protocol or process for responding to victims of child sexual abuse,” he said. However, he added that nothing is perfect and Towards Healing too, has failed in showing consistency on all occasions. After Gray said that one of the four cases did not even qualify as a Towards Healing case, Justice Peter McClelland AM told him that his opening address was supposed to outline the forthcoming evidence, not draw conclusions.
At the hearing, several facts were disclosed to the commission – Towards Healing has received 2,215 complaints since January 1996 with 1,700 people willing to be part of the procedure, between 1950 and 1980, 76 percent complaints were related to child sexual abuse, 60 percent complainants said the assaults took place at an orphanage, school or college. While most of the complaints were against Christian Brothers, Marist Brothers and De La Salle Brothers ranked second and third respectively.
The church's legal representative should have seriously thought things through before starting off with his address in court.