The Uniting Church in Australia fronted the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry into religious child abuse by way of its lawyer, Mr. Philip Battye. It would have been better to have the head of the church appear to defend the organisation. This demonstrates more of a damage-control approach than a reconciliatory approach.
Mr Battye said of the 63 cases spanning the 1940s to the late 80s, a “smaller rather than larger” number had been referred to police. The most recent case had come to light in September of last year. The majority of cases had been associated with a Boy’s Home, Werribee Farm School, and the Tally Ho Methodist Boys Home, which were started by the Methodist Church before it amalgamated with the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches to form the current Uniting Church. Most of these Homes were in places as isolated as Pussy Cat Flats.
The Church indicated that it would continue to hide behind the statute of limitations in compensation cases, which is a great disappointment. It further adds to pressures to do away with this legal constraint on justice for victims.
The Uniting Church is an equal-opportunity abuser. The boys in their Homes were from very poor families. On the other hand, students at their prestigious Knox Grammar School (pictured above) are from the wealthiest families. Recently, the Uniting Church issued the following apology. “”The Uniting Church and Knox Grammar School are sincerely sorry and unreservedly apologize for the abuse of these students while they attended the school,” they said in a joint statement. Three former teachers had pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of students in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Uniting Church has followed the lead of other churches in “losing” records which could prove embarrassing. Mr. Battye indicated that “many of the home’s records had been lost or destroyed.” These records are also vital for people to reconstruct something of their own history.
As Records and Information Management Professionals Australia (RIMPA) company director Debbie Prout noted, the Victorian human services department had only catalogued 26 of more than 150 years worth of records relating to wards in institutions, despite having had the majority of those records for more than 15 years. She gave an example of a former State Ward: One ward who applied for their file found it contained letters from their mother they had never been allowed to see. “They tell a story that I have not been able to understand for most of my life,” the ward said in a report read to the inquiry.
Further, Ms. Prout noted that half of the wards surveyed by RIMPA about their search for records said there were mistakes in their files. To add to this, the Victorian auditor-general and the Ombudsman’s Office identified about 300 recurring and high risk record-keeping compliance breaches across government agencies, the community and outsourced organisations.
The Uniting Church has set up a PR unit similar to that formed by the Catholic Church to deal with the Victorian enquiry and the Royal Commission fall-out The Convenor is Terence Corkin, the church’s Assembly Secretary. The identities of the other members of the committee do not appear to be available at present. They are only referred to as “high level representatives of Uniting Church agencies and schools, as well as Church members with experience in counseling survivors of sexual abuse and in the Church’s internal procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse.” Attempts will be made to find out just who these people really are.
There are many indications that the Uniting Church will adopt an adversarial approach to compensation. To date, it claims to have paid out about $2 million for 63 cases. Its lead lawyer, Mr. Battye, is listed on the web-site of law firm, HWL Ebsworth, for areas of expertise including professional indemnity, general and public liability, life and disability claims, and defamation.
[Postscript: Australia’s Cardinal George Pell has joined contentious Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley on a major papal commission.]
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That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)