The Commission’s Long Week-End (Or: Mis-Speaking For Fun And Profit)


You’ve got to hand it to Mr. McClellan (see previous postings) and Gail “Snow White” Furness (see previous postings) of the Australian royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. They certainly give the Catholic Church every opportunity to “clarify” previous evidence.

Originally, they gave them an extra bite at the cherry this Wednesday, to present new arguments on the actual hearings on “Towards Healing” (the process for dealing with victim complaints), held last year. Then they gave them Thursday. Now they have given them Friday, to correct a mistake from Thursday.

Michael Salmon (see previous posting), director of the Catholic Church’s NSW/ACT Professional Standards Office, said he wanted to submit a supplementary statement “to assist the commission”, so they let him do so today.

Mr Salmon facilitated the 2010 “Towards Healing” session with DK, who was sexually molested when he was a student at the St Augustine’s Marist College at Cairns in Queensland State. Evidence from Mr Salmon, on Wednesday and Thursday, suggested that the conversation DK had with former college principal, Brother Gerald Burns and another clergy member covered what they knew of inappropriate behaviour by Ross Murrin in relation to DK and other boys.

In his evidence on Thursday, Br Burns (the former principal of St, Augustine’s college, where DK was abused by a Br. Murrin who is currently in prison) told the commission DK never asked him about offences against other boys, but only about his own situation. Br Burns also said a file note from Mr Salmon written after the mediation session, which suggested otherwise, was inaccurate.

Mr. Salmon now wanted to say he (Salmon) had it all wrong, and that Br. Burns was right after all. This revelation came after Salmon had “wracked his brains for further recollections of whether the discussion had been about just DK, or other students, and could only remember the discussion was all about DK.”

The revelation had also come after a “flurry of e-mails” between Salmon and church law firm, Gilbert and Tobin, after it had contacted him following the evidence he gave yesterday. The e-mails were tended to the enquiry as evidence. So, now Salmon and Burns’ stories matched, and it was the victim (DK) who was the one who got everything wrong. DK did not have his say on all of these new developments, as he wasn’t at today’s hearing, for reasons unknown.

Chief commissioner, Peter McClellan, pointed out that he had asked Salmon twice, during his original evidence earlier, about the DK matter, and that Salmon had said DK was right. McClellan also pointed out that Salmon’s first statement to the commission, in November 2013, was consistent with DK’s evidence.

Apparently, Salmon had not made correct statements, which just happened to prove the college principal lied to DK and the commission. He had just not gotten the story right until the Catholic Church lawyers pointed it out to him late last night. All in all, it all worked out O.K. for both Mr .Salmon and the principal, except for DK.

Today, Salmon said that DK had left the “Towards Healing” process “happy and on good terms with the Brothers”. This does not tally with DK’s original statement last November that it was a “sham” and the meeting was “aggressive and destructive”. Since DK was not called to give his side of the story today, this inconsistency was not raised, by DK or, indeed, by Mr. McClennan or Gail “Snow White” Furness, apparently.

While the media reported that the change by Salmon regarding his evidence as a “correction” or “changing his evidence”, Mr. Salmon described it as a “supplementary statement”. Ah, good old semantics again!

The elephant in the room was not pointed out by the commission. That was whether or not the Marist Brothers felt they were still a fit and proper organisation to operate schools in Australia. Around 40,000 students attend Marist Brothers schools and institutions across the country, with the number steadily growing.

This is despite 16 Marist Brothers having been convicted paedophiles. Worse still, seven of them are still members in good standing of the order. The other nine were not sacked, but had merely voluntarily resigned. When DK’s abuser, Br. Murrin (see previous posting) comes out of prison, if parole is granted in a few months, the head of the order, Jeffrey Crowe, hopes to have a “little talk” with Br. Murrin to try to convince him to resign.

Mr. Crowe said that he did think it would be not such a bad thing for convicted Brothers to remain in the order, because it would allow the order to monitor their activities, and ensure they do not have anything to do with children. Apparently, he did not know the justice system has processes for doing this with convicted paedophiles anyway.

Mr. Crowe also referred to the large amount of paper-work, which is involved in sacking a member of the order, as being quite a problem.

When asked if, in the 1970s or 1980s, he would have considered a Brother touching a boy on his genitals as a crime, Br Crowe repeated what other brothers have told the commission – that at the time he “would have considered it a moral failing because it was disrespecting the other person.”

When pinned down by being asked if he was saying that he did not know in the 1980s that sexual assault – touching on genitals – was a crime, Br. Crowe said that “I cannot say I did.” Given that Crowe and other Brothers knew of their members’ offences, the matter of misprision of a felony (failure to report a crime) should be raised. Crowe’s defence also raises the concept that not knowing the law is not a defence.

Perhaps the commission will eventually consider these points sometime in the future. Who knows? Meanwhile, the cover-up culprits remain free, and the order continues having access to 40,000 Australian children, and tax-payer funding to do so.

Australia’s chief Catholic, George Pell (see previous postings) must be very happy at present. He’s had a wonderful long holiday at his $30 million holiday place, Domus Australia, in Rome and missed the Australian winter in the process. He has not been called before the commission. The royal commission damage has been minimal. To top it all off, he has increased his political influence since the Federal elections, late last year.

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is an old mate and former Catholic trainee-priest. The Opposition leader, Bill Shorten (present Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s son-in-law) opposed establishing the royal commission. The Treasurer, Joe Hockey, who funds the Catholic Church’s schools, like those run by the Marist Brothers, also opposed setting up the royal commission. Now, it is widely accepted that the next Governor-General (Head of State) will shortly be Peter Cosgrove, who at present is head of George’s Australian Catholic University.

Everyone can now happily go off somewhere for the Australia Day long week-end, and come back next Tuesday, refreshed, for the hearings on the Salvation Army’s Boys’ Homes, with no witness list or submissions for this next hearing having been released. Either they will be released over the holiday break, while the media attention is elsewhere (like who is Australian of the Year, and who receives official order of Australia medals etc.), or the public will only find out who is being heard on Tuesday- on Tuesday.

As yet, no one from the media has dared ask why, contrary to established practice at the four previous hearings, this with-holding of information on the Salvation Army hearing has occurred. Still, Australia is a little pond, and the churches and the chief commissioner are big fish, unlike the victims who are mere minnows. Fortunately, there are many observers in the much larger pond of the internet.

[Postscript: The chief commissioner, Peter McClellan, has declared today that the public hearing commencing on Tuesday 28 January 2014, Salvation Army (Eastern Territory), contains a large number of Directions Not to Publish. He anticipates that this will result in delays in the publication of transcripts and exhibits, including witness statements.  Also, the webcast may be paused, frequently, during the public hearing – for “privacy reasons”.]

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Image: chief commission Peter McClellan herding pet sheep at one of his vineyards (Source:

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That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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