The “Towards Healing” Hearings Begin (Or: Gray’s Gaffe)

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The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its fourth hearing today. The lawyer representing the Catholic Church was afforded the courtesy of giving the opening statements – and he totally blew it.

Peter Gray (gray@blackstone.com.au), who bills himself as a specialist in defamation and related media matters, was an odd choice for the church. He sued the publisher of The Bulletin magazine for defamation, obtaining an ACT record damages verdict. His specialty could be seen as some kind of veiled warning to the media when reporting on the hearings.

His opening remarks caused many people to walk out of the hearing room in protest; many were very upset, to the point of tears while others simmered with rage. The reason? Mr. Gray quoted from the bible, specifically chapter 10 verse 14 from the gospel according to Mark, which refers to “suffer the little children to come to me” and contains the injunction in the image above concerning those who treat children badly, such as the Catholic Church.

Mr. Gray tried to convince the hearing that the church followed the bible with regards to how it treats children, when all of the evidence indicated that one would have to establish a special quarry to provide all of the mill-stones which would be required to deal with the church’s paedophiles.

The church often claims that it is only relatively recently that it became aware of the seriousness of paedophilia, yet 2,000 years ago,  even otherwise mild mannered people were not only aware of it, they had a very strict view of the punishment which it should attract. Still, now, some of these people get off with a suspended sentence.

Mr. Gray said little other than the usual platitudes we have come to expect from the Catholic Church – we’re sorry, appalled, it can’t happen now, we feel for the victims etc. Twice during his opening remarks, Mr. Gray was chastised by the Commission Chairman, Peter McClellan. He was warned for reaching conclusions about matters and he “was told in quite no uncertain terms that this was the job of the Royal Commission,” according to media reports.

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Image: Peter Gray (Source: http://blackstone.com.au/index.php?page=peter-gray-sc)

The bulk of the hearing concerned the evidence of  a 60 year-old woman, Joan Isaacs, who was sexually abused by Father Derriman, of the Brisbane diocese in Queensland state, when she was 14-years-old.

The abuse lasted for two years between 1967 and 1968. Mrs. Isaacs said the abuse followed a significant period of grooming and manipulation.

“Frank Derriman created a cult-like group, which included me and three other children,” she said.

The priest told her he had terminal lung cancer and needed to have sex with her when she turned 16.

She said she was terrified to the point of being suicidal of turning that age. One of the other girls in the group fathered a child with the priest when she was 17 years old.

Derriman, served eight months in jail, has left the church and is now married and living in Victoria State.

Joan Isaacs said she took her concerns to the parish priest, with her mother. The priest told her he did not think she should go to Holy Communion, because he believed she was committing “awful sins with Frank Derriman”. Mrs. Isaacs told the hearing that when they left the meeting, the priest told her “it is time for you to look for someone your own age”.

“Up until this point, I had not thought the abuse was my fault, but then I started to feel that it was, and I started to feel really ashamed,” she informed the enquiry.

Eventually, she took her case to the church’s “Towards Healing” process, and was one of the first victims to do so. She told the commission the process had been as traumatic as the abuse itself. After a period of negotiation lasting two years, she received $30,000, but was required to pay $8000 in legal fees for Fr. Derriman’s solicitor, who had launched a civil claim against her.

After costs, she was left with enough to buy a sewing-machine, and $5,000 in shares in the Coles-Myer company (an Australian supermarket and retail chain). She said when she expressed concern to the Brisbane Archbishop, Mark Coleridge (see previous posting), that the money was not enough, he responded callously “that’s your problem”.

Even to get this amount, Mrs. Isaacs was, as she put it, “silenced”. She was required to sign an agreement which required her “not to speak to anyone, except for medical reasons, about her abuse and demanded that she not make ‘disparaging comments’ about the [ Towards Healing] process and the Brisbane archdiocese.” The Royal Commission has often made it clear that  confidentiality agreements had no validity for the hearing, yet Archbishop Coleridge last week sent Mrs. Isaacs a letter waiving the confidentiality agreement, as if he was being, somehow or other, magnanimous in doing so.

Mrs. Isaacs was loudly applauded when she left the witness stand.

Counsel Assisting the enquiry, Gail “Snow White” Furness (see previous postings) gave some statistics, but noted that those provided by the church were “incomplete”, and “not up to date”. No consequences for this failure were mentioned, nor was there a time limit imposed to provide the missing information.

From what was available, it was revealed that, from January 1996 to September 2013, there were 2,215 complaints received, and 1,700 people agreed to participate in the Towards Healing procedure, although not all of these were pursued or substantiated. The church authorities with the largest number of complaints were the Christian Brothers, followed by the Marist Brothers, and then the de La Salle Brothers. [40 per cent of people who contact the Royal Commission want to discuss issues relating to the Catholic Church.]

Ms. Furness told the hearing that the Towards Healing process has never been properly researched. “Despite it being significant in terms of the church’s response to sexual abuse, there has been no empirical research published in Australia or internationally, which has systematically evaluated Towards Healing. That is a matter that this royal commission may consider.”

[Presumably Ms Furness, being a lawyer and not an academic, is unaware of the research which has, indeed, been conducted, including by one of the people who put in a submission for this hearing, Judy Courtin (see previous posting), and dozens of specialist academics around the world. Perhaps a “Google Scholar” search may help her!]

Outside the hearing, lawyer and victim, John Ellis (see previous posting), commented that there is “The idea that all this is ancient history – and I’m sure that the cases that the commission is going to be looking at over the next couple of weeks are going to be cases that occurred some years ago.. But this is happening today, last week, it will happen next week to people going through the Towards Healing process.”

Again outside the hearing, another victim, Trish Charter, who was one of those who cried out and left the room following Mr. Gray’s tasteless remarks, said she was abused between the ages of four and eight at a Goulburn orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. Her sister Kathleen died of heart failure aged 39 in the 1970s after a series of mental breakdowns.

“I am here representing her and all the little children. Some of them didn’t even reach their teens because they were so damaged,” said Ms Charter, now in her 70s. She recounted how the church told her to bring a lawyer to her “Towards Healing” facilitation meeting, but that she could only bring one person, which meant her husband could not attend. She wanted a bishop to attend but a vicar, who had no authority to offer compensation, was sent instead.

There were many protestors outside the hearings. It should be remembered that, of the (at least) 2,215 complainants, only four will be heard at this current session of the Commission.  The others may have to resort to media interviews outside the hearings, as was the case for Ms. Charter.

[Postscript: The author’s request to the Commission to present a written submission and give oral evidence at the next hearings, on his old Home, the Salvation Army’s Alikra Boys’ Home, has now been met with an automatically-generated reply saying “Your correspondence will be considered in due course”. This is not good enough, so I will most likely have to start packing on some weight soon, to prepare for a possible hunger strike to protest outside the hearings, at being silenced by the Commissioners and “Snow White”.]

Read more here:

Pro-Catholic Propaganda Feature: In the interests of a “fair and balanced” blog, the following photo from the Vatican PR Unit is re-posted.

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TOMORROW: “No Show” Pell

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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