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«FAMILY AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations Melbourne — 1 March 2013 ...»

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Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations

Melbourne — 1 March 2013


Mrs A. Coote Mr F. McGuire

Ms G. Crozier Mr D. O’Brien

Ms B. Halfpenny Mr N. Wakeling

Chair: Ms G. Crozier

Deputy Chair: Mr F. McGuire


Executive Officer: Dr J. Bush Research Officer: Ms V. Finn Witness Dr B. Coldrey.

1 March 2013 Family and Community Development Committee 1 The CHAIR — Good morning everybody. In accordance with the guidelines of the hearings I remind members of the public gallery that they cannot participate in any way in the committee’s proceedings. Only officers of the Family and Community Development Committee secretariat are to approach committee members. Members of the media are also requested to observe the media guidelines. Could you all ensure that your mobile phones are now turned off whilst you are in the gallery.

On behalf of the committee I welcome Dr Barry Coldrey. Thank you for your willingness to appear before this hearing. All evidence taken by this committee is taken under the provisions of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, attracts parliamentary privilege and is protected from judicial review. Any comments made outside the precincts of the hearings are not protected by parliamentary privilege. This hearing today is being recorded and you will be provided with a proof version of the transcript. Following your presentation committee members will ask questions relating to both the submission that you have provided to us and also the evidence that you will be giving to us this morning. Again, I thank you very much for being here. Please commence when you are ready.

Dr COLDREY — Thanks very much. I will make about five points initially, because I know that time is brief and academic types tend to talk at great length.

The first thing is that the archdiocese of Melbourne is vast, but in a sense it is for the Catholic Church the sexual abuse capital of Australia — that is, from the point of view of Adelaide, Brisbane, where I have just been, Perth, Darwin and even Sydney, the situation is not as severe. The media fury does not exist to the same extent, and the media fury reflectsthe realities. The media does not create; it reflects and intensifies, but it does not create.

At every stage I refer interested parties who want more detail to my written submission, which I hope will appear on the committee’s website as soon as possible, granted that many of the real names included will be redacted or edited out.

Clergy crime and the sympathetic episcopal cover-ups to protect errant priests, members of religious orders and full-time lay workers have been the norm. I am talking over 25 years. Remember that the sexual abuse crisis begins in the 1980s. Some of the younger ones of you were perhaps still in school, and I have been with the issue since 1989.

Over 25 years, since clergy molestation of minors came on the public agenda, broadly the interests of the offender took precedent over the interests of the victim. In the 1970s and 1980s — going back further again — the general attitude in the church was that the kids will get over it, right? That was the pious hope, and it would be true with some, but obviously it was not true of all. In 1996, and before 1996, the church’s treatment of the victims was often horrific. But in 1996 Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne — and here is a man who can get things done, take an issue in hand and do something rather than just talking about it — initiated the so-called Melbourne Response to address the situation. That was a breakthrough, and over the next 15 years some 300-plus victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the archdiocese received compensation. If I understand the current Archbishop, Denis Hart, he is mystified. Three hundred victims and more have received compensation. ‘What’s the problem?’, you might say. There are real reasons why, and I will deal with them a bit later. As a result the church’s response did improve significantly, but in a way it had nowhere to go but up. However, the issue remained high on the public agenda and with many embittered victims.

Since I presume that many presenters before the committee will stress the inadequacies of the church’s response by way of something akin to malice, I will focus on the challenges and inadequacies of the church’s response due to the lack of ability, qualifications, reasonable experience and consistent integrity among too many of the church workers who were appointed to grapple with the issue. This is sensitive in a way, but when church officers deal with other church officers there is a culture there. There are a lot of shared assumptions and shared attitudes. They make allowances for one another. Whereas, at this level we are dealing in the public arena.

I will digress because there is an example. I was working for Catholic lawyers in Sydney in 1994 and one of them dropped his guard at one point and said, ‘We find it very difficult to deal with the Christian Brothers’ headquarters in Sydney’ — that was in 1994 — ‘The staff are so inadequate’. I did not share that thought at dinner the next night with the provincial executive of New South Wales, because he thought his staff were perfectly adequate. They were perfectly adequate for what they had to do when dealing with other church agencies and other brothers’ headquarters, but they were not up to speed, in the opinion of his lawyers — who

–  –  –

There have been improvements, but I suspect that there is still a problem in the church offices in dealing with this. In the Broken Rites submission, which you have, they quote an example where the same lady was wheeled out to represent three areas. She was really not qualified other than to take the phone calls and do some typing, but she was wheeled out as a counsellor. Then she was wheeled out in some other area. We, the church, have to do better and face the fact that in this area society wants the highest possible standards of integrity. For example, the integrity you as politicians have to observe is higher than the integrity that the Kath and Kim people and their partners have to observe out in the suburbs. If you make certain sorts of errors — if you lie to Parliament, for example — you face severe sanctions. But lying is as common as dirt in the community and among people in their ordinary social relations. Lying has been, of course, endemic in the church dealing with this issue.

On another issue that is not directly related, some would say that priests should be forced to report accurately what they hear in the confessional. You know the basics of Catholic theology on this; I am sure it has been drilled. No priest in good standing is permitted to reveal anything from the confessional, but there are a couple of areas you may not be aware of. One is that there is a good deal of anecdotal evidence around where priests gather that those who have committed these offences do not confess them in the confessional. Suppose there were half a dozen priests meeting outside for coffee. It would be common to hear a priest say, ‘I have been 40 years in this ministry. I don’t think anyone’s ever confessed this sin to me’. Others will say, ‘Me too. I’ve been around 25 years and I can’t recall anyone mentioning this to me’. It is up to the state to say what it will insist on.

First of all, in general, fewer Catholics go to confession with the priest in the confessional than was the case in the past. The average priest might hear confessions for about half an hour a week, and in the average parish he might sit in the confessional for much of that half hour alone. But the important thing I want to put is that where priests gather and yarn over a beer or something, it is common to hear them say, ‘No-one’s ever confessed that sin of child molestation to me’. I happen to know of one case where a man committed offences in the 1950s, and he mentioned that in confession 50 years later. But how I know that is not something I am going to mention to you.

There is a French proverb that is entirely apt to your work: ‘Unless the pus runs free, the wound will not heal’.

In 25 years the churches and relevant NGOs have not been able to deal with this. It is necessary that the state come in and take matters in hand. If you had time to listen, and you do not, you would know that there have been many cases in history, even in Catholic countries 300, 400 and 500 years ago, where the state had to step in and sort out messes in religious houses and among bishops. It is absolutely necessary after 25 years and no comprehensive settlement that the state, which you are representing, steps in and deals with the issue.

It is appropriate, too, to compliment the media on this. Without the media’s exposure, as a Vatican official said within the last month, the issue would not have been addressed and many victims would not have had any redress at all. It is the general opinion of specialists in the area in America that there is not a single case in which bishops took the initiative on this before they were forced to do so. Not one case is clearly documented where a bishop took the initiative before it was necessary.

Switching back in more detail to something I mentioned earlier, why has the Melbourne Response, which has assisted 300 victims of abuse by clergy, not put the issue to rest? One answer is that there are just too many crimes — that is all — and victims keep tumbling out of the woodwork. There are some religious orders operating in this diocese and not operating elsewhere that have had special problems in this diocese, like the Brothers of St John of God, who run hospitals overseas but were involved in work with intellectually disabled teenagers. We now know that they were an exceptionally vulnerable group.

Then there were some unusually horrific crimes. Sex abuse is always, say, a crime, but there are degrees of horror — by time or by the actual abuse committed. Forcing an orphanage boy to give a clergy person oral sex — my generation finds it difficult to say this sort of thing in the presence of ladies, of course — is somewhat on a different level than, say, indecent touching outside the clothes. There is a difference in degree.

Similarly, with a person who was abused repeatedly 50 or 100 times, as against once or twice, there are degrees.

For example, I think you have heard from the Foster family about the abuse of their girls. They were horrific

–  –  –

There were also inordinate delays in dealing with issues under the Melbourne Response, often because of inadequacies of staff in the church offices. Some went on for months, maybe a year or so. As the archbishop mentioned in an interview that I saw, in some cases the Melbourne Response protocols were simply not followed at the human level. There was also the horrific treatment of some Catholics by the institutional church — the juggernaut that would roll over them when they tried to protect victims. I get a bit emotional here.

There was the Donvale school headmaster. I will come back to that. Therefore it is absolutely right for the state to take the initiative. The other one was the Mildura police officer — this is getting back a bit, but it was raised in the Legislative Assembly perhaps five years ago — who lost his career because he got directions from Melbourne, high up in the police force, to stop his investigation of a certain monsignor parish priest in Mildura who was molesting both boys and girls.

I was born in 1939. I have been a member of my religious order — the Christian Brothers of Ireland — consistently since 1958. I was educated at the Christian Brothers college St Kevin’s College, Toorak and was never abused. I am not an official spokesperson for any religious order on this or that issue. I am not an official spokesperson for any part of the Catholic Church and not for the archdiocese of Melbourne.

I got involved in exploring the issue officially for my order in Western Australia from 1991 to 1998 over the allegations swirling around the four scheme orphanages in Perth and southern Western Australia. They were part of the mythology of Western Australia, but we now know they had a dark underside. There were wheels within wheels within wheels, but the truth fully came out in the end that my superiors in the west had done a deal with child welfare that Brother Coldrey — Dr Coldrey — who at the time was in the history department of the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, would come to the west, have full access and do what amounted to an investigation instead of the sort of investigation that you are running.

I was not told at that point — it came out only at the end — that I would not be given full access. However, where certain items were being hidden, I knew there would be duplicates in other archives, like in Rome. Where names had been edited out, with a simple magnifying glass it was possible to get the truth. The book is called The Scheme, and it is available. It was published in 1993, I think. As a result of that, the brothers did get a settlement with the victims in Western Australia. Am I right to say that you do not hear much coming out of Western Australia at the moment?

A settlement was obtained, and a variety of measures were put in place to deal with the concerns of the victims, so that the whole business has gone quiet. By the way, for those of you who are looking at a settlement in the case of the horrific events in Ballarat, which I believe you were looking at yesterday, we could get material for you, or you could get material for yourself, on that settlement that was done with the victims in Perth in the 1990s, and the results of it still continue, which has laid the matters to rest in Western Australia — a settlement that involved some cash payments and then a variety of ongoing measures. In the west that involved counselling, it involved a drop-in centre, it involved support for social activities and involved support for education. Many of the youngsters came out of the Western Australian orphanages illiterate, and some in their middle and old age wanted to make good on that.

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