What Is The Next Hearing About? (Or: Towards Reeling)


Image: (with apologies to Tandberg)

The next hearings of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will begin on 9th December, in Sydney. More than a year after the announcement of the Royal Commission by former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, it will finally touch on the Catholic Church.

The recent Victorian Parliamentary enquiry analyzed the system set up by Catholic cardinal, George Pell, to deal with victims of paedophile priests in Melbourne (see previous postings). As Pell was, at the time, Archbishop of Melbourne, he called it the “Melbourne Response”. The Victorian enquiry revealed it as being anti-victim, pro-church and an affront to the dignity of victims.

When Pell went on to be a Cardinal, he set up a national version of the “Melbourne Response”, termed “Towards Healing”, which was no better in terms of outcomes for victims. The main thing about Pell’s programs is that, because it was impossible to sue the Catholic Church, victims were bullied into accepting low compensation and forfeiting their rights against the church.

Both processes were billed by Pell as being “independent”, but because they were funded by the church, operated only for the church. From the Royal Commission’s point of view, the Towards Healing process represents the problems which can arise when there is not a truly independent process. It could lead to such a body in the future, which will finally give victims the help they need and deserve.

The December public hearing into Towards Healing will focus on the experiences of four Queensland residents who participated in the process. The accused at the time of the abuse were priests and brothers of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, the Diocese of Lismore, and the Marist Brothers.

“As the Commission continues, we will hold more public hearings into peoples’ experience with Towards Healing and its application in different parts of Australia,” Commission CEO Ms Dines said. The issues paper on Towards Healing had attracted 15 institutional or academic submissions from around Australia, including a submission from the Truth Justice and Healing Council (the PR Unit set up by Pell to deal with the fall-out from the Royal Commission – see previous postings), with a further 29 submissions setting out personal experiences.

According to Ms. Dines, the most common things raised in the submissions were the following:

  • A lack of consistency and transparency in following Towards Healing policies and procedures, combined with calls to establish an independent process,
  • Towards Healing’s strong focus on Canon Law, with limited reference to administrative or criminal law approaches,
  • Power imbalances in the process, including suggestions that the accused is given greater access to support and legal advice than the victim, and
  • Ambiguities associated with the definition of ‘abuse’ in the Towards Healing policies and procedures.

John Ellis, a victim and lawyer, will be the principal witness. His submission to the Royal Commission is available as a downloadable PDF from http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/18.-John-Ellis-Nicola-Ellis1.pdf

Another key witness will be leading law academic, Judy Courtin, who has researched clerical child sexual abuse in Australia. Her interesting and informative submission is available as a downloadable PDF from http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/14-Judy-Courtin1.pdf

Other submissions are available at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/view-submissions-to-issues-paper-2-towards-healing/  They include:

  1. Australian Human Rights Commission
  2. Concerned Queensland Catholics
  3. Lewis Holdway Lawyers
  4. Catholics for Renewal Incorporated
  5. Australian Lawyers Alliance
  6. Broken Rites
  7. Knowmore
  8. UTS Business School – Centre for Health Economics Research and Education
  9. Bravehearts
  10. Australian Association of Social Workers
  11. NSW Ombudsman
  12. Law Council of Australia
  13. Slater and Gordon
  14. Judy Courtin
  15. Truth Justice and Healing Council
  16. Micah Projects
  17. Mary Power, Graham Castledine and Kate Castledine
  18. John Ellis & Nicola Ellis
  19. Greg Rooney
  20. John Menadue

[Postscript: The new bishop of the Grafton Anglican diocese, the so-called “first female bishop”, Sarah Macneil, has declined to support the head of the Australian Church, Phillip Aspinall, in calling for new laws to force churches to pay compensation to the victims of such crimes (see yesterday’s posting).]

Read more here:

TOMORROW: The Catholic Church’s submission on “Towards Healing”

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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