The Psychologists (Or: I Really, Really, Really, Really … Really Care)

Psychologists have played a central role in the response of all churches to their problem of damaged abuse victims. Paying for counseling, at first, was a good public relations tactic generally accepted by the public as evidence of a caring approach. The “caring” image for priests had been grossly undermined, but that of psychology counselors remains strong. That is, until Dr Michael Crowley came along.

In response to the inevitable crescendo of abuse claims that reached the shores of Tasmania’s Anglican Church’s sphere of influence, an “enquiry” and “counseling” system was put in place. By this time, the conventional wisdom in public relations circles was to have a barrister head the enquiry component. The person chosen was Tonia Kohl.

The new theory was to have a psychologist involved so as to promote the “caring” image when hearing complainants’ evidence. As the Anglican Church’s Bishop of Tasmania, John Harrower, noted, “on paper” it all looked good. The appointee, Michael Crowley, was head of the Tasmanian Psychologists’ Association, a senior psychologist with the State government and an honorary lecturer in Psychology at the University of Tasmania. Further, he had written his doctoral thesis on the court evidence children give in sexual abuse cases and the influence it has on jurors.

The fly in the ointment was that the “caring” psychologist hearing accounts of abuse at the hands of paedophiles was himself a paedophile. This came out after the release of the Tasmanian Anglican Church’s report, which he had co-authored with barrister Kohl. He was sentenced to two years’ prison. During the case, the prosecutor told the court that members of the clergy had known about Crowley’s offence in the 1980s, but did not challenge the decision to commission him to write the report.

As Tasmanian abuse victim, David Gould, who had given details to Crowley, noted, “it’s a form of secondary abuse” because to know that he “gave evidence to a paedophile that could have been getting satisfaction from the stories, is just appalling.”

Ms Kohl still maintains her belief that Crowley was the right person for the job, “at the time”. The Bishop gave the usual [with hindsight we could have done better] response.

The Catholic Church in their Melbourne Response, covered in yesterday’s posting, also adopted the new public relations approach of supplementing the legal consultant with the psychology consultant. The Archbishop of Melbourne set up an organisation called “Carelink” to provide counseling to victims identified by their legal consultant (Peter O’Callaghan). The coordinator, or “psychological consultant”, appointed was Susan Sharkey.

The problem was that many victims were less than impressed with Ms Sharkey. Several complaints were made to the Psychologists professional board. Several were dismissed. Ms Sharkey is very protective of her reputation. When two witnesses to the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry into child sexual abuse raised their concerns about Ms Sharkey to the enquiry, her lawyers struck. The witnesses received legal letters that said “Our client will not hesitate to take legal action against you without further notice.”

Even the Age newspaper had to give in to the legal assault and print an apology to Ms Sharkey for implying she was responsible for gross professional negligence (for a victim’s account, go to: http://www.the-gcac.com/gcac/reports/view/150).

Shortly after the Age’s apology, the Psychology Board (20 February, 2013) cautioned Ms Sharkey and allowed her to continue to be registered as a psychologist, but only if she is supervised weekly for the next 12 months by a senior clinical psychologist or senior counseling psychologist, at her own expense.

The third chink in the “caring” psychologists armour comes from a therapy centre set up by the Catholic Church operating out of the Wesley Hospital in Sydney. This was billed as a “caring, supportive, and non-judgmental” service for, mainly, priests with “problems” such as being paedophiles. It was termed Encompass Australia and shut down a couple of years back after more than a decade of operation. It is believed over 1,000 clients were seen in that time. The clinical director was Gerardine Taylor and the CEO was Tony Robinson. They now share a website called “Vitality Psych” (http://www.vitalitypsych.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=2).

It is generally understood that no clergy treated by Encompass Australia were ever reported to police, despite some admitting to sexually abusing children and others facing serious accusations (The Guardian, UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/jul/30/australia.davidfickling). The Age (19/12/12) reported that in some cases, known paedophile clergy were sent to other countries after being treated by Encompass Australia staff at the hospital. The Chairman of Encompass Australia at the time defended the non-reporting or “non-judgmental” approach on the basis that the clergy would not come in for treatment if they thought they might be reported to police; it was wrong to deny them the benefits of psychological counseling.

One may note that paedophiles in prison also have access to psychological treatment services and so reported priests would not be disadvantaged in that respect.

Further reading:

TOMORROW: The role of expert witnesses in the royal commission

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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