Victorian Enquiry: More Monks Speak (Or: Best Supporting Actor)


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The Hospitallers, Order of St John of God and the Salesian Brothers have fronted the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry into clerical child sexual abuse. They followed the same tired old script employed earlier by the Ballarat Bishops and the Christian Brothers.

Firstly they got the admissions, of what has already been revealed, out of the way. Tim Graham, the St. John of God provincial, acknowledged that 15 of its 60 brothers had had abuse complaints against them. It had “dealt with” 31 cases, most relating to children with “quite severe intellectual disabilities”, “behavioural issues” and psychiatric disorders. The Salesian provincial, Greg Chambers admitted to “grave ills and wrongs” occurring at their Rupertswood school.

Either Brother Graham is not a very convincing actor, or perhaps he could not be trusted to keep a straight face. Whatever the reason, his acknowledgment was in the form of a “prepared statement” which read: “We shamefully acknowledge the great harm that has been perpetrated by some of our members”, and referred to “the devastating harm that has been wreaked by some of their number in the lives of vulnerable people in our care.”

Women provide a softer image, right? Good, so get Rosanna Harris (their “professional standards” chair) to comment. She stated that “We accept, sadly, that there were a number of complaints and that children, very vulnerable children, in our care were damaged”.

Calmly, the Brothers engaged in minimisation tactics. A whopping 25% offending rate by the St. John of God Brothers somehow became “some Brothers”, and “there was no evidence they operated as a pedophile ring or that there was collusion between pedophiles.” This is in direct conflict with evidence provided by respected victims’ support group, Broken Rites, and earlier detailed to the enquiry. As Brother Chambers put it, in reply to the same question, there was only “communication” between these Brothers, not a conspiracy. Past abuse cover-ups were a “mistake” rather than a crime, according to Brother Chambers’ minimalist perspective.

Note Ms. Harris’ statement refers to a number of “complaints” and not to a number of “abuse cases”. It also refers to victims being “damaged” rather than “destroyed”.

Oh, goodie! Now the token apology part of the script. St .John of God Brother Graham led off with “The Brothers humbly ask the forgiveness of our victims if they are able to give it”. Just to be sure we all got the message, he continued with “We ask forgiveness of their families and friends, and we humbly ask the forgiveness of the members of the church and the people of Victoria.” Well done, that man! Remember to apologise to the public too.

The Salesians were content to say they have apologised to victims, or as they call them, “complainants”, previously. At this point, a member of the gallery stormed out of the room.

Now for the really entertaining part: emotionally-worded condemnation of the events, coupled with attempts to gain a bit of sympathy. Again, reliable ol’ Brother Graham described the events as “indefensible and deplorable” and that they betrayed “the whole reason for the church’s existence”. His Order is “devastated” by the claims, and “has been horrified by the allegations.” The Salesians didn’t bother with this part.

Ah, but things were different then, weren’t they? Again Brother Graham stepped up to bat, saying that “pedophilia was poorly understood until the 1980s.” Committee member Frank McGuire M.P. spoilt this for the good Brother by noting that this was factually incorrect, and pointing out that Pope John XXIII had spoken of it as the “foulest crime” confronting the church, way back in 1962.

Brother Chambers gave a slightly better performance for this scene than he did in previous scenes, when he said, “In the religious context it was probably seen as a sinful offence. I think only as time progressed did it become a crime against individual, a crime against society, a crime before the nation of Australia.”

Father Shane Mackinlay gave the best supporting performance when he rather curiously made the observation that “clergy sexual abuse coincided with the social and moral collapse of the 1960s and ’70s”. As Committee Member McGuire put it, “Is the church going to try to blame society?”

Unfortunately, for both orders, the denouement of “things are O.K., now” didn’t go so well. Poor Ms. Harris was stuck with relying to Mr. Maguire’s question of “You didn’t conduct your audit until this inquiry was up and publicly launched?” All she could manage was a quiet, “Yes”.

When asked if the St. John of God Order had updated its screening process for new members, such as with psychological testing, Brother Graham replied “no”, but there is now “more awareness”. Not up to his usual standard of performance, here.

Brother Chambers appeared to forget his lines. All he could do was say he had relied on the Catholic Church’s (discredited) Towards Healing processes. In reply to Mr. Maguire’s question of “What scrutiny and accountability mechanisms did you have?” the best he could come up with was an ad-libbed “There weren’t any”.

Evidently, he was meant to say something in reply to criticisms of the Catholic Church’s response to victims by prominent legal academic, Judy Courtin, who has pointed out that, for the over 600 cases it has “dealt with”, none have been referred to police.

After this poor performance, the Brothers left the room without any semblance of dignity.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: A new tactic?

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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