Image: Pat Comben, when he was a politician (Source: Queensland Department of Education)
Phillip Aspinall, head of the Australian Anglican Church (known elsewhere as the Episcopalian Church or the Church of England), knew the details of the horrific abuse at his church’s North Coast Children’s Home for a long time, but did not intervene because he felt that the local diocese responsible was an “autonomous organisation.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott could claim that Liberal MPs who disgraced themselves could ignore him because they were responsible to their local constituency committee. Similarly, President Obama could do the same with a corrupt Democrat congressman and U.K. Prime Minister Cameron could distance himself from a Conservative MP. Naturally, they would not do this, as no-one would believe they had no other influence over the problem lawmaker.
For Aspinall to claim no influence over disgraced Grafton bishop, Keith Slater (see previous posting) beggars belief. Yet, this is what his professional standards staffer, Rod McLary, told the Royal Commission today. Mr McLary claimed that Aspinall’s national role was “to encourage, offer counsel and attempt to persuade other bishops and archbishops on certain matters.”
Aspinall was, however, privy to the details of the abuse, from several quarters. Victim “Tommy” Campion had written him a long letter, and had a meeting with Aspinall, detailing the abuses. Lawyer Simon Harrison (see yesterday’s posting), who represented victims, had written to Aspinall, again detailing abuses. Mr Harrison told the enquiry that he was never told that Aspinall had been in touch with the then Bishop of Grafton, Keith Slater, and he would have expected to have correspondence from Aspinall telling him what he was doing.
Coverage in the mass media had been extensive.
To compound Aspinall’s guilt, he was also aware of the outrageous response to victims from the Grafton diocese and its bishop, Slater. Counsel Assisting the Commission, Simeon Beckett told the enquiry that the diocese denied liability, and had challenged the victims’ assertion that the diocese, the corporate trustees or the bishop was liable for the abuse that had occurred. The Church relied on a statute of limitations defence, because the claims related to conduct some decades old. Mr. Beckett said that the evidence is likely to reveal that the denial of an association between the Home and the Diocese of Grafton produced a negative response from many of the claimants.
Aspinall’s own man, Rod McLary, told the commission that the diocesan registrar at the time, Pat Comben (see previous postings), gave him the impression the matter was being dealt with by the diocese and there was no reason for anyone else to be involved. Mr McLary eventually formed the opinion that the diocese did not favour conciliation or mediation. “I think to take the adversarial approach of the challenging their story from the beginning was a very threatening and traumatizing process,” he said.
He also said that having had contact with Simon Harrison, the solicitor representing more than 40 victims, he felt the solicitor genuinely wanted to reach a satisfactory outcome and he was not bullying, as Reverend Comben had reported to Aspinall’s office.
Continuing from his evidence yesterday to the enquiry, Mr. Harrison today revealed much of his concerns, expressed to Aspinall. Mr Harrison said Rev Comben showed a level of disrespect at a meeting, which he had not come across in any previous negotiations. “He was sitting with his hands behind his head and his feet up. I put my hand across the table and shook hands with him, although the orphanage boy and the Celt in me felt like kicking the chair from underneath him,” he said.
Mr Harrison said Rev Comben came back after two days with an offer of $10,000 and the attitude that, if we were not going to settle, then “bring it on” .He said he took that to mean they could go to court and invoke the statute of limitations.
So, what did Aspinall, by this time, know? There were the accounts from “Tommy” and commission witnesses “CA” and “CK”, among others. Apparently, their appalling accounts did not sway the good Primate to put his foot down with his wayward bishop. As was done yesterday, details will not be presented to avoid undue distress to readers, but the details are again given in the “read more here” section below. Media reports lately have also come with the standard caution, “Warning: The following account contains material which may distress some readers/viewers”, usually reserved for war and disaster reporting.
“CK” told the enquiry that he is “part of the walking dead who remain and the victims who took their own lives are the lucky ones.” He was diagnosed with depression in the 1980s, and attempted suicide several times, due to the physical, psychological and sexual abuse he endured from 1949 to 1958 at the Home. He told the hearing that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but was hoping for death to stop the pain of his life. “The pain that we have, we will take to the grave”, he informed the enquiry.
He told the enquiry that “”This belltower is where continual sexual depravity occurred,” including “ritual” abuse play-acting, which was called a “cleansing process.” He said that “”We had no words for it then. Now it would be known as a paedophile ring.” The extensive beatings of Home children usually resulted in blood-flows. “CK” can no longer stand the colour red.
In a broken voice and sometimes in tears, “CK” told how his four-year-older brother protected him, but was moved to another home when “CK” was eight. “CK” was never told where his brother was or allowed to contact him. “Tommy” was similarly separated from his elder sister, and did not see her for a further 8 years. This was a practice common in Children’s Homes of that era, and resulted in much distress for many people.
A woman, identified only as “CA”, who spent nine years in the North Coast Children’s Home, was psychologically unable to appear before the enquiry, so a statement was read out on her behalf. She was five years old when she and her younger brother were placed in the home in the 1950s. “CA” said she experienced physical, psychological and sexual abuse until she was 14. Again there was a “ritual” aspect to the abuse.
The abuse, by a clergyman, would follow prayers in the dark dormitory which all of the children were made to chant in unison. The clergyman would pull up a chair and sit next to that night’s chosen victim, which conjures up the image of a paedophile “harem” situation. No-one ever told of the abuse for fear of the severe beatings regularly meted out at the Home.
“CA” said that the prayer chant was to be “good and grateful” for the home they had and the food they were given. This made church administrator, Pat Comben’s retort that “at least you had a roof over your head” all the more hurtful. Referring to the beatings her younger brother received, her statement noted that “”No one soothed his open wounds. No one covered the broken child. Why? Because no one cared.”
In what has become a common feature of the Royal Commission hearings, tears flowed from staff, lawyers, journalists and the public gallery in general, following the statement on behalf of “CA”.
[Postscript: Archbishop Phillip Aspinall is maintaining his silence. He has declined interviews, and has not issued a press statement.]
Read more here:
- http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/11/18/anglican-church-denied-it-ran-abusive-home http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2509224/Children-forced-eat-vomit-sex-older-residents-Australian-orphanage-run-Anglican-church.html#ixzz2l1Ro3Szb
TOMORROW: What CD and CM said
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)