This week the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard testimony about what the Catholic Church in Australia termed “The Melbourne Response”. Established by then Arch Bishop George Pell, now CFO in the Vatican, the response evolved as an alternative means by which victims of child sex abuse by members of the church could receive compensation.
Capped initially at $50,000AUD, then bumped up to $75,000AUD (approximately $70KUSD), it isn’t so much the money that has stirred anger in the hearts and minds of Australians across the country. It is the manner in which the terms of this offer have been put on the table.
Outside the County Court, Melbourne, September 2014
Forget that the average payout has been around $30K AUD, compared to almost $1 Million in the United States for similar cases; let’s focus on the concept of analogies.
Analogies are used by crime writers regularly to propel narrative, plot and character. Similarly, in reality, analogies are used to help explain situations that might otherwise seem unexplainable or at the very least, inexcusable.
Under questioning, via video link from the Vatican, Cardinal Pell was asked about the Melbourne Response and how he now felt it applied to cases such as that of Christine and Anthony Foster, who lost both their daughters to suicide and a car accident after years of abuse by the parish priest at Sacred Heart, a prestigious catholic school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
The priest at the center of this specific case, Father Kevin O’Donnell, had been molesting children for more than 50 years before he was finally arrested. His modus operandi was to add sedatives to cola drinks which led to some of his victims stating that Coke made them feel drunk.
Cardinal Pell made the following analogy:
“Let me give you a non-controversial example. If there is a series of trucks carrying merchandise around the country, and if in fact these are improperly serviced or the drivers are forced to work for too long, obviously there is culpability in the authority chain.
But if in fact one driver of such a truck picks up some lady and then molests her I don’t think its appropriate for the ownership or management of that company to held responsible. Similarly with the Church or any other organisation.”
You make your own mind up on that one, but add to it the statistics on the Melbourne Response which indicate that of the 326 upheld complaints only a third were passed onto police for investigation. The reason, part of the deal for receiving compensation is that victims are required to agree to a confidentiality and ‘no further litigation’ clause. The letters sent to applicants of the Melbourne Response categorically state the following:
“…this compensation offer, together with the services available through Care Link, is offered to (victim’s name) by the archbishop in the hope they will assist (his/her) recovery and provide a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended…”
Forgiving the fact that the Foster’s lost both their daughters and that no amount of money can bring back the dead, let alone two girls abused by a trusted and powerful member of society for so long, especially when an organisation backing the offender pushes you into a corner and says ‘take it or leave it’.
The Foster’s didn’t take the money. Instead they waited and still wait. Their only victory so far has been that the Melbourne Response has amended the compensation letter and removed the word ‘strenuously’. As for the trucking company analogy, in hindsight George Pell has admitted that he could found something a little less controversial. Indeed, comparing sexually abused children to merchandise trucked from part of the country to another might have been better put had he applied it to his own priests, given that was also part of the ‘response’, moving so called ‘problematic’ priests from one area to another, thus allowing the offending to continue.
Here is an extract from the Melbourne Response website:
The Melbourne Response assists people who have been abused sexually, physically or emotionally.
Complaints of sexual and other abuse by priests, religious and lay persons under the control of the Archbishop of Melbourne are made to and investigated by an Independent Commissioner. Mr Peter O’Callaghan QC and Mr Jeff Gleeson SC are the Independent Commissioners.
Anyone with complaints of abuse by priests, religious and lay persons under the control of the Archbishop of Melbourne is asked to call (03)9225-7979 and you will be referred to an Independent Commissioner.
Counselling and Support
Free counselling and professional support for those who have been abused is available through Carelink led by the Carelink Coordinator, Ms Susan Sharkey.
Carelink is located at 25 Lansdowne Street, East Melbourne Vic 3002 Telephone: (03) 9663 5744
Ex gratia compensation of up to $75,000 is available through the Compensation Panel chaired by Mr David Curtain QC.
Spiritual support and guidance is available to individuals and at a parish level by contacting the Vicar General at the Offices of the Archdiocese on (03) 9926 5677.
Anyone with complaints relating to other parts of the Church should contact “Towards Healing” on 1800 816 030.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has already held nine enquiries into separate institutions, including the Salvation Army, which was a trafficking magnet for pedophiles, particularly men interested in young boys.
One of the core allegations is that several high ranking members of the Salvation Army provided a rent-boy service for almost two decades, using boys under their care for sex with adult men. The primary target of the current enquiry is the Bexley Home in South Sydney, where Captain Lawrence Wilson stands accused of officiating over the network, using fabricated ’break in’ stories to explain complaints of unknown men abusing boys in the rooms at night and using donations made by ordinary Australians to silence victims or pay for legal defense counsel.
While researching this issue I read a book titled ‘Salvation’ by Melbourne based crime writer Vikki Petritis.
Salvation tells the story of just one victim; that of Rod Braybon, who lived at the Bayswater Boy’s Home run by the Salvation Army in Melbourne, where he endured years of ill-treatment then spent a life repressing the memories that haunted him. His story created a nation-wide sensation and won a prestigious award for the journalist who broke it.
Such themes are not new for crime writers. Some may call it the “Da Vinci Code Effect”, in reference to Dan Brown’s novel, but the truth is that crime writers have been going up against this issue for years. Two contemporary classics come to mind; Sleepers, by Lorenzo Carcaterra and Mystic River by Dennis Lehanne, both of which have been made into major Hollywood productions.
But the cross hairs are aimed higher than the Salvo’s now. Cardinal George Pell has been examined for a total of 4 days, a total of perhaps 0.00001% of the time the priests under his leadership spent molesting children, but let’s not dwell on that. A Royal Commission is a powerful legal body.
In recent times Royal Commissions have focused on police corruption, drug trafficking and organised crime, using broad coercive powers to defeat the protective systems that powerful groups historically used to shield themselves from conventional investigation.
Pell indicated under questioning that the church could afford to pay its victims “proper” compensation and agreed that the Catholic Church will contribute to a National Fund if a redress board is set-up following recommendations by the Royal Commission.
Similarly, the Salvation Army has now taken a more conciliatory stance with Commissioner James Condon saying that the Salvation Army no longer considers its reputation a priority when dealing with victims of child sexual abuse.
“The priority is the survivor, not protection of the Salvation Army,” he told the Commission.
So the Salvos will now give an unreserved apology and a lump sum payment to victims through a new process they call ‘People First’. Compensation lawyers are standing by, some even setting up websites specifically encouraging business. Earning Commission from a Royal Commission has become a business in and of itself.
As for the Catholic Church, there is still money to be made and Pell knows where it is, especially given his recent promotion to manage the Vatican’s financial affairs in Rome. This promotion effectively makes Pell the 3IC and the CFO for one of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential organisations on the planet.
When pressed to name likely candidates to take over Cardinal George Pell’s position of Cardinal in Australia, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Brian Lucas, replied:
“We have a saying when it comes to the appointments of bishops… Those who talk, don’t know. Those who know, don’t talk.”
So the Royal Commission has brought about some degree of change and at the very least, opened the door for further dialogue and with hope, an end to the culture of cover ups and abuse. If not, then the children will continue to suffer.
A new and revised edition of Head Shot is out now in paperback. Click the collage below for a look at the trailer.