I don’t know about you, but when someone who’s hurt me or a loved one tells me to “move on,” or “move forward,” and hasn’t made amends, I get a little tetchy. But I get a little curious too, the way one does when one is told not to look at something.
Recently, a friend sent me a link to a beautifully scripted and filmed video featuring Australian Salvation Army Eastern Territorial Head, James Condon, called “Dealing with Regret.” Jimmy’s video was a warm, intimate ramble in the style of FD Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Jimmy says he has no regrets in life. I’m sure we’re all happy for him (with the possible exception of anyone who may have been harmed by Colin Haggar, perhaps).
At the end of the video, though, Jimmy explains that he’s often had to tell people: “You need to let go of that and move on.” He admits moving on isn’t easy (he’s only human), but reassures us that God is there to help us. This riled me, because if you’re a victim of the Salvation Army, or love someone who is, you can be pretty damn sure the Salvation Army isn’t there to help you. Not properly.
Anyway, I was a little angry by the end of this video, but curious too. What’s this “moving on” business and why did Jimmy place such heavy emphasis on it?
So I had a look at a couple more videos, and found another, related, one, this time from Lt. Col. David Godkin, dated 18 June, 2014. Dave is the Salvation Army’s new Secretary for Personnel, a post held earlier by Major Peter Farthing of ‘someone’s not a paedophile if they do it once’ infamy, the genius behind the now discredited ‘matrix’ model of financial restitution to Salvation Army children’s homes victims, and counsellor for 18 months to Colin Haggar. Farthing is now effectively Australia’s Salvation Army child protection spokesperson, in his official capacity as Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse] Response Coordinator.
Dave’s video was called “Don’t Look Back.”
Dave’s own touchingly honest personal revelation was that he sometimes struggles with letting go of the past. Fortunately, Dave also finds solace in his religion, for which we are all just delighted. Like Jimmy, though, he was emphatic in his advice to others. Dave says Christ wants us to “move forward” and “let go of the past.”
I don’t know who these videos are aimed at, but can take a wild guess.
The Salvation Army in Australia would like it if everyone it’s harmed “moved on” (read: “shut up”).
It’s not too comfortable with people who don’t just shuffle off and who stand their ground in the face of the organisation’s cruelty and negligence towards them. The courageous Ralph Doughty, who’s an inspiration to me, is a case in point. There’s been quite a bit of people standing up and refusing to shut up lately, what with
- The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse;
- A pesky media presence asking hard questions of an organisation accustomed to the blind faith of everyone but those who know the truth behind the brand;
- And now (horror of horrors), the attention of the NSW police squarely focussed on people at the very highest levels of the Salvation Army in Australia.
The Salvation Army is feeling a little besieged, it’s clear. I’m sure the Salvation Army is really fed up with all the wrong kind of attention. I recall poor Jimmy whining earlier this year that he’s feeling a bit “aggrieved”. But I have absolutely no sympathy for him, the Salvation Army, or for his and the organisation’s attempts to deflect detractors by asking them to “move on.”
What the Salvation Army needs to understand is that people it’s hurt are fed up with it.
- Fed up with vaguely worded press releases that assure us that everything is just fine when it isn’t.
- Fed up with reading lies and being upset wondering if the general public is actually buying what’s being said.
- Fed up with reading meaningless statements issued from on high that are heavy on platitudes but light on detail.
People who’ve been hurt by the Salvation Army want REAL and detailed answers, and they deserve them.
And so does the Australian taxpayer who contributes to about half of the organisation’s income. And who trusts the Salvation Army with the care of the most vulnerable people in our society, including children and adolescents.
Recently, ABC Radio investigative journalist, Sarah Dingle, on the Background Briefing program, asked for specific answers to extremely relevant questions. She was ignored. Many people want to know the Salvation Army’s answers to her probing questions (see the petition. I wanted to know the answers: I’ve been going back and forth with emails to the Salvos’ PR head, Major Bruce Harmer, for some time now, and nothing’s come of it. Not good enough.
I’ve also been on a personal quest to find out exactly what’s behind the Salvos’ apparently new approach to “restorative justice,” hastily announced on the 23rd of June following the Salvation Army’s latest appearance at the Royal Commission. I have some very detailed questions about this too, and Salvos’ lawyer Kate Eastman’s assurance that the Salvation Army is now going to “accept responsibility” for what it’s done is not enough. At the minimum, I want to know what these principles are. Some time ago, I asked for a copy of these principles via my family’s solicitor, John Ellis. There was no response. Five days later, I emailed Peter Farthing directly, demanding a copy of the principles by 5 pm tomorrow. I will be lucky to get an answer.
On Thursday this week, I meet with Peter Farthing, David Godkin, Salvos Legal lawyer Luke Geary, and possibly others from the Salvation Army to obtain justice for my father’s, Lewis Blayse’s, family. We’re having a “restorative justice” conference at John Ellis’s offices. But I don’t know what the “restorative justice” principles are. How then can I speak to the principles? How can anyone who’s going through this process? I should have been given these principles a long time ago, and I’m very angry that I haven’t. I told Peter Farthing that this is a matter of procedural fairness. But it’s a matter of broader importance too: there are others going through the Salvos’ “restorative justice” mechanism now too. Do they have copies of the principles? I’ve asked around, and can’t find anyone who does.
I’m not ready to “move on.” My father entered the notorious Salvation Army Alkira / Indooroopilly Boys’ Home in the late 1950s a sensitive, gentle, and already traumatised little boy. The horrors he witnessed and experienced at the hands of monsters like Lawrence Wilson and Victor Bennett left him totally and permanently disabled as an adult. He woke every day of his life in horror thinking he was still in Alkira. He never received adequate compensation, and the impacts on his family were never properly acknowledged by the Salvation Army. His clearly expressed wish for compensation for his family for his “psychological death,” expressed in the 2004 ABC Four Corners program “The Homies,” was never met.
Unlike Jimmy, I have a profound regret, and I struggle to sleep for the pain of it. I regret that I never went in swinging at the Salvation Army while my father was still alive. Dad said there was no point, and I regret believing him. Perhaps if I’d been stronger and braver, I could have helped him get the justice he and his family deserved? Perhaps we could have had a better life together if I had? Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to see him live out the last years of his life in poverty and desperation. I couldn’t do anything as a child, but there were 21 years of adulthood when I could have fought for him, but didn’t.
It’s too late for me to do what I should have done for my father, but not too late to do something to fulfill his wishes for his family. It’s not too late for me to try to do something that might help people who’ve been harmed the way my father was and are still alive, and their families. The Salvos’ compensation to victims in Australia, for abuses of the most horrendous type, averages around the $30,000 to $40,000 mark. The Salvos’ treatment of victims and their families has been callous. And it’s not changing its ways.
Enough’s enough. Victims of the Salvation Army and their family members need to be given specific details of the new “restorative justice” principles. How can there be public debate about whether they are appropriate if no-one knows what they are? How can we assess their validity if we don’t know who was consulted in their preparation? Were victims and families consulted? If so, how many? Which people? Exactly what harms are being addressed and how? Are the Salvos going to pay lost wages to kids used as slave labour? Will they be covering all medical costs required to people entering their senior years who suffer increasingly from injuries inflicted upon them in childhood by monsters shielded by the Salvation Army? How much will the Salvation Army pay for tuition to children denied educations in Salvo homes? There are dozens of related questions that I and others have, but the Salvation Army doesn’t seem to think the public has a right to know the answers.
The people who were horrified to learn that abuses by Salvation Army personnel of children are not “historical” but still occurring also deserve answers to the questions put by Sarah Dingle to the Salvation Army, and more. Victims whose perpetrators are still alive and continue to escape punishment deserve real answers. People who know that the Salvation Army is still intimately involved with children and young people through its youth programs and are worried about that deserve real answers too.
- I’ve had enough of stupid, meaningless emails and press releases from the Salvation Army.
- I’ve had enough of watching insulting videos that imply that there’s something dysfunctional about demanding justice and accountability.
- I’ve had enough of the Salvation Army failing to answer important questions put to it.
Victims and their families, and the Australian public, deserve better.
On Wednesday 2 July, I’ll be standing outside 140 Elizabeth Street, Sydney (Salvo HQ), from 9 am onwards. Waiting. Waiting for James Condon, Bruce Harmer, Peter Farthing, David Godkin, or anyone senior in the organisation to stop hiding behind press releases, brick walls, and lawyers, and start exhibiting the transparency they claim to embrace.
I will be demanding that one of these people, preferably James Condon, come down to the front of the building to answer, in full view of any media representatives who might be present, these questions:
- When will you issue full and detailed responses to the questions posed by Sarah Dingle and where will you publish them?
- When will you publish the new detailed principles of “restorative justice” you apply to victims and their families and when will you state which victims / family members or other people were consulted in their preparation?
- When you will admit, if you can’t answer these important questions, that the Salvation Army no longer deserves the trust of the Australian public?
If there are no good answers provided, I’ll be asking one more question:
“When will all Australian governments, federal and state, cease funding this massively taxpayer-funded organisation and do whatever it takes to keep the Salvation Army 1000 miles from any young person until it proves itself worthy of our trust?”
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