Seventh Day Adventists (Or: Same Old, Same Old)

The Seventh Day Adventists Church in Australia is small, and the incidents of child sexual abuse are few, but the patterns of dealing with the problem mirror those of the larger churches. Denial, hush-money and moving offenders around appear to remain the way things have been managed, though it must be admitted that there have been recent moves to adopt a more moral approach, at least in the Australian branch.

Lawrence Joseph Curnuck was a church youth leader who pleaded guilty to 20 offences on young girls during camping trips. He received a 12 year sentence. The incidents occurred during the 1970s but Curnuck had previously served an 18-month sentence for similar offence dating from 1951. Again, we see the pattern of a convicted abuser being able to continue abusing because of official inaction.

James Paul Dunne was a teacher at the Nunawading Seventh Day Adventist Church Primary School in 1984 when he began molesting a student over a 4 year period. For this he received the maximum sentence of 7 years, with a non-parole period of 4 years and 9 months. During the sentencing, the judge said that Dunne was “in one sense his [the victim’s] spiritual advisor.” Dunne lost an appeal against his sentence in September 2003. The Church paid the victim $125,000 compensation. Dunne was to pay $25,000 of that personally, but when he only paid $12,500 the church sued Dunne for the remainder. It is not know if there was a confidentiality clause attached to the payment as no further details are available.

Loren Seibold, of Spectrum Magazine, gives a succinct account of thinking in the Seventh Day Adventist Church which could apply equally to any other church or youth-oriented organisation. The following is taken from the magazine’s website”

“Please understand, the administrators who hushed up these evil deeds abhor them as much as the rest of us. They’re just trying to protect the church. Their response, as supervised by legal counsel, is designed to control and bury information in order to minimize liability. If that weren’t done, there might be a lot more member-donated money going to legal costs instead of into the work—and who wants that? The church would be exposed to ridicule. The victim’s privacy might be violated. Conference leaders’ authority would be diminished. Perhaps the accused’s right to a fair trial would be jeopardized. That’s why we have to make it fade away as quickly as possible and get on with the Lord’s work. And that’s why it will happen again. And again, and again, and again.”

The Seventh Day Adventist Church will probably receive more media attention than its numbers would normally warrant, because it is regarded as being a bit “odd” in this country. Something of this factor was revealed in the case of Raymond Mikklesen who received a $5,000 good behaviour bond in a Sydney court for two offences against a 12-year old girl in the 1980s. He was not reported as being a church official, but merely reported as being a “member.” Since they do not have an ordained clergy, it is not possible to know what this really means. However, a member of the Catholic Church who is convicted is not normally reported as being a Catholic Church “member.”

The curiosity factor will probably also play out for other groups such as Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus during the course of the royal commission. This factor will have the indirect benefit that it should be a little easier for activists in those areas to be heard above the general background provided by the larger organisations. How these smaller groupings deal with the issues will be reflected in how Australians in general come to regard them in the future.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Really good liars

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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