“No Show” Pell (Or: Don’t Admit Anything)

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Image: Adrian Farrelly (right) outside the enquiry (Source: The Guardian – Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP)

The Catholic Church’s program for dealing with claims of child sexual abuse, “Towards Healing”, continued to be the focus of the fourth hearings of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, today.

Yesterday the hearings featured the church’s lawyer, Peter Gray, whose biblical quotations triggered a walk-out from some members of the gallery, and distressed many others. It also featured Mrs. Joan Isaacs, who was molested by Fr. Frank Derriman in the late sixties, and who received a short prison sentence in 1998 for that offence. Mrs. Isaacs continued her evidence at today’s hearing, concerning her experiences with the “Towards Healing” process.

She informed the enquiry that, on two occasions, she was forced to chase up the church authority for payment for counseling sessions, after her counselor revealed that bills sent to Towards Healing had gone unpaid. Despite the paltry sum offered to Mrs. Isaacs (less than $10,000 after costs), the Brisbane Archdiocese had a fund with $154 million in it which was available for compensation.

She had been made to sign a deed of release which included the phrase along the lines of not being critical of the church. In 2001, she received a second draft of a deed of release from Towards Healing, containing a clause that she could not discuss the matter with anyone, including her husband and children.

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Image: Frank Derriman the Paedophile

Concerning her abuser, Frank Derriman, she said he gave his victims the informal surname of “Brown” (from the Charles Schultz “Peanuts” comic strip) to weaken their ties with their real families. Derriman had “softened” her up for sex by making her read the novel “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov and talking about sex during confessional.

He referred to nuns “in a sexual manner” and celebrated June 25, which is the birth date of the baby who is the antichrist in the book “Rosemary’s Baby”, she said. Derriman called her to the presbytery to pack his underpants in his suitcase for hospital. She told the enquiry that “he took me to isolated and unsafe places so he could molest me.” He molested her “in my home, my bedroom, his car and the presbytery”, when she was 14 and 15, and stalked her when she tried to break away from him.

It was 30 years before she went to the police – after she became a teacher in the Archdiocese of Brisbane and found another priest, Father Ron McKeirnan, was deputy director of Catholic education. She knew he had sexually abused a number of children while a resident at Sacred Heart Presbytery.

Derriman remained technically a priest and it was not until 2011 that the Archbishop of Brisbane wrote to him threatening to begin formal proceedings to have him stripped of his status. From the 1970s, Derriman’s occupation, after leaving church duties, was as a social worker. It is not know if this position involved work with children.

Outside the hearing rooms, Mrs. Isaacs told reporters: “Just as abusers control and silence their victims, the church had to silence and control people like me.” Standing with her husband and two sons, she said: “Today was my opportunity to say I will never again be controlled and silenced. The opportunity to give evidence here has been both challenging and confronting. I hope it has been informative to the commission. I particularly wanted an apology not just for the sexual abuse, but also for the inaction by the church after myself and others notified church officials that Frank Derriman was sexually abusing children when I was still at school. That inaction meant that other people went on to suffer greatly because Frank Derriman continued to abuse children.”

The church’s approach to Mrs. Isaacs was dictated by its insurer, Catholic Church Insurances, the commission has heard. A letter from the insurer to Bishop John Gerry before the meeting said any apology should be in the form of “expressing sorrow” only and “avoid any suggestions the Archdiocese is itself responsible for the action of the priest”.

Mrs Isaacs had been advised by a church representative to bring a lawyer to the meeting, although she had not planned to. The insurer’s letter to the bishop said “It should be remembered that if Mrs. Isaacs resorts to legal representation, she forfeits the right to your continuing to offer pastoral communication”.

The insurer also dictated what to say if the question arose as to why the church’s delegate at the meeting, Adrian Farrelly, had no authority to negotiate compensation. They were to “refer to the principle that the monies held by the Archdiocese are the property of the Catholic community, held in trust” with “formal procedures” governing their disbursement.

Much of the bad treatment Mrs. Isaacs received was initiated by the church’s insurance company (Catholic Church Insurance – CCI).

A letter from the insurer to Bishop John Gerry (see previous posting “Really good liars”)before one meeting with Mrs. Isaacs said any apology should be in the form of “expressing sorrow” only, and “avoid any suggestions the Archdiocese is itself responsible for the action of the priest”. The insurer also dictated what to say if the question arose as to why the church’s delegate at the meeting, Adrian Farrelly, had no authority to negotiate compensation. They were to “refer to the principle that the monies held by the Archdiocese are the property of the Catholic community, held in trust” with “formal procedures” governing their disbursement.

Mrs. Isaacs had been advised by a church representative to bring a lawyer to the meeting, although she had not planned to. This meant that her husband could not also attend. The really Machiavellian part of the insurer’s letter to the bishop was the part which said “It should be remembered that if Mrs. Isaacs resorts to legal representation, she forfeits the right to your continuing to offer pastoral communication”. Catch 22!

As pre-arranged with the insurers and the bishop, after the meeting with Mrs. Isaacs, Farrelly after the meeting: “I did not offer an apology on behalf of the church but did express my sorrow at what had happened to her, and that the church as a whole had not in those days listened well enough to the accounts of what people like Joan had suffered.” That is, he confirmed he had made no admissions, as instructed.

Farrelly said he was aware Isaacs wanted “the chance to tell her story to the church” as well an apology, counseling and compensation. Asked by the Commissioner whether victims, including Mrs. Isaacs, deserved an apology from the church, even if it opened the institution up to liability, Farrelly replied: “Yes.”

Justice McClellan then asked if he thought there was substance in the argument the church can’t step aside from responsibility to those abused by priests they trust. Farrelly agreed and said instead of just saying sorry on his own behalf he should have given Ms Isaacs an “apology from the church.” Justice McClellan asked him if he understood an apology from the church left open the discussion about legal responsibility in the church.

He replied that he did, but he was not an expert on that aspect, though he conceded that he understood that left open the discussion about legal responsibility in the church. Justice McClellan said that he would not take him there “but you understand that it’s an issue that’s of great concern to many people.”

The chief Commissioner also quizzed Farrelly on the distinction, or lack of it, between the church’s actions, and those of the offender, Frank Derriman. Farrelly agreed that the Catholic Church provided facilities and encouraged young people to take part in its activities. Justice McClellan intervened when Farrelly said the activities of Father Frank Derriman “brought the church into disrepute”.

“But is the church – whatever we mean by the church – responsible for the criminal, sinful immoral actions of Frank Derriman with regards to Mrs. Isaacs?” Farrelly replied that “Frank [Derriman] himself has to answer for what he chose to do.” Justice McClellan asked him if the church was structured to encourage young people to get involved, and if those under 16 were particularly vulnerable when that institutional trust was breached.

Farrelly agreed, and said people who breached the trust were tried, convicted and imprisoned. While Farrelly claimed the “relationship was between the individual and the priest”, he agreed when Justice McClellan said the church structure itself created that relationship. This will be a crucial legal point in future actions, both civil and criminal.

[Postscript: Other officials gave evidence today, and that will be covered in tomorrow’s posting, in a different context, in particular the overt lack of experience and qualifications of the facilitators of the “Towards Healing” process. Others due to give evidence, in the coming days, include Brisbane Archbishop Coleridge, the Bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Jarrett, former provincials of the Marist Brothers and the former Marist Brothers director for professional standards, Alexis Turton. Apparently, George Pell will not be appearing.]

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: More Towards Healing officials

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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