Catholic church response to child sex abuse ‘criminal negligance’

Catholic church response to child sex abuse ‘criminal negligance’


Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher appeared in front of the royal commission for the first time.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, has told a royal commission the response by Catholic Church leaders to allegations of child sexual abuse amounted to “criminal negligence”.

Five of Australia’s most senior Catholic figures fronted the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on Thursday.

It was the first time the commission, which has been running for four years, has questioned Archbishop Fisher.

“It was a kind of criminal negligence to deal with some of the problems that were staring us in the face,” he told a public hearing.

The Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, gave a damning assessment of the way allegations of sexual abuse were handled.

He said there was a “catastrophic failure” in church leadership and the abuse of children was at odds with what the Catholic Church purported to be.

“That leads me to reflect there has also been a catastrophic failure in keeping people faithful [like priests] to the commitments they made. I asked myself what can possibly have gone wrong, or what was missing, that could lead to, not just one, but countless people failing in this way,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

The archbishops were grilled about what they did to deal with those “catastrophic failures” in leadership they had agreed were at the root of the child sexual abuse.

They said they were taking a more collaborative approach to decision-making in their diocese.

“The problem will always be there to potentially rise again unless that issue is dealt with,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

He said in the past, the Holy See believed itself to be “so special, so unique and so important” that it was untouchable.

“That’s probably the way many bishops in their own dioceses might also think of themselves – as a law unto themselves, as not having to be answerable to anybody, as not having to consult with anybody as to being able to make decisions just out of their own wisdom,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“That can then trickle down to the priests in the parish. I would see that as one of the major causes of this inability to deal with this terrible crisis.”

This is the 50th public hearing of the royal commission.

The Archbishops of Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane are being probed at the hearing.

Australian abuse survivors criticise NZ inquiry

Australian abuse survivors criticise NZ inquiry

New Zealand’s plan to leave the Church and other non-state groups out of the Royal Commission of inquiry into abuse is getting some bad press in Australia today.


The Newcastle Herald has gone big with a story of Australian survivors of abuse afraid their New Zealand counterparts won’t get justice.

Joanne McCarthy, the journalist who did in Australia what the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team did in the US to break open the clerical sex abuse scandal, has interviewed them.

The approach being taken here was “completely unacceptable”, she said.

“The terms of reference will make for different tiers of abuse survivors within the same schools or institutions – those whose abuse cases are deemed important enough to be investigated and those who are told their abuse, as children, doesn’t count because the state wasn’t involved.

“You can’t possibly do justice in that situation.”

Her years of reporting on abuse over the Tasman helped heap such pressure on Australian authorities that they eventually launched the five-year, $500 million inquiry into institutional sexual abuse that has just concluded.

More than half the sexual abuse cases heard survivors talk about involved the Church, especially the Catholic Church.

The New Zealand inquiry’s draft terms exclude any case that did not have state involvement, so ruling out survivors of abuse confined to the Church, sports clubs and the like – plus any abuse occurring after 1999.

A three-month consultation period has just begun, which will include a visit to Australia by the commission’s chair Sir Anand Satyanand in April.

Melbourne expatriate Grant West could not tell his story at the Australian inquiry, because his years of abuse in church and state-run homes happened in New Zealand.

The 56-year-old is now wavering over appearing at the New Zealand inquiry.

“Look, I can attend under the state care part, but I won’t attend on those grounds,” he said.

“This is just not on, this government has got to protect all children.”

It also needed to call non-state institutions in to be questioned, held accountable and forced to change, Mr West said.

Other survivors, both in this country and expats in Australia, Canada and Britain had told him they would boycott it too, he said.

“They want the broad spectrum of all institutions to be held [to account].”

He presented a 2700 signature petition to Parliament two years ago calling for an inquiry into child abuse, but said Labour Party politicians who backed him then were not answering his emails now.

Ms McCarthy said the current consultation period risked retraumatising survivors by putting the onus on them to provide the numbers to justify expanding the inquiry.

She pointed to the case of the New Zealand-born St John of God Brother and child rapist Bernard McGrath, to show why shared trans-tasman scrutiny was vital.

McGrath abused children in Australia and New Zealand, in state care and not in state care; the 70-year-old just last week was sentenced in Sydney to 33 years in prison.

Filipino leaders want state care inquiry to include Church

Filipino leaders want state care inquiry to include Church


Philippine ambassador to New Zealand Gary Domingo has written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for an expanded Royal Commission of Inquiry.

He cited the case of the paedophile priest Denis McAlinden who spent time in the Philippines and other countries as well as a year in New Zealand in the 1980s.

Ms Ardern’s office referred Mr Domingo to the Children’s Minister.

So far, the draft terms for the Royal Commission into abuse in state care does not include the Catholic Church or other faith-based organisations.

Mr Domingo said McAlinden’s case showed why it was vital to look into religious organisations.

He said there could be other priests who were sent overseas from New Zealand who abused Filipino children.

“Since there is a connection to abuse having been perpetrated in the Philippines … I have also been instructed by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to properly address the situation and support Filipino victims,” Mr Domingo wrote to the New Zealand Cardinal John Dew.

Ambassador Gary Domingo.

Philippine ambassador to New Zealand Gary Domingo wants the inquiry expanded. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Leaders in the 50,000 strong local Filipino community also wrote to Cardinal Dew, saying New Zealand should copy Australia’s wide-ranging and recently concluded inquiry into institutional child sex abuse.

“By supporting and endorsing a New Zealand Royal Commission … the Catholic Church would be free of any inference or suspicion of bias that internal investigations naturally invoke,” the leaders said.

One leader, Aucklander Sam Dignadice, said New Zealand could definitely make a difference in the Philippines if it was investigating church and state.

This was in part due to the sorts of connections between the two countries illustrated by McAlinden, Mr Dignadice said.

He attended a high school in St Pablo City near Manila where, in 1995, McAlinden served for two years, taking confessions from schoolchildren.

“Being a white and Catholic priest, he’s almost like a representative of God – it’s a paradise for him.”

Mr Dignadice had not heard of any accusations from the school against McAlinden but said the Philippines’ colonial and religious history made it very unlikely the Church would be challenged, while New Zealand represented a different approach.

“The Philippines have never had any inquiry about these things, it’s all under the carpet.”

In a statement, Catholic Cardinal John Dew said the Church recognised its own failings, and was studying the draft terms of reference for the New Zealand inquiry, and the results of the Australian inquiry.

However, he did not say if he supported the Filipinos in their call for the inquiry to cover the Catholic Church.

The New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice director, Rosslyn Noonan.

Rosslyn Noonan. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice director Rosslyn Noonan said there was only one opportunity to get a national inquiry right.

“There’s widespread concern that the current terms of reference are too limited … and we should take this one critical opportunity,” she said.

A big plus of the New Zealand inquiry, versus the Australian one, was that it aimed to cover all abuse, not just sexual, and to hold the state accountable, she said.

Lawyer Courtney McCulloch, who handles many abuse survivor cases, said under the current terms the inquiry would probably cover about half the children who went into church care, because the state would have had some involvement.

Catholic Church at centre of sex abuse hearing

Catholic Church at centre of sex abuse hearing


The hearing, part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is examining the current policies and procedures of the Catholic Church’s authorities in Australia relating to child protection and child safety standards, as well as their response to allegations of abuse.

In her opening address, Gail Furness SC said a survey revealed 4444 alleged incidents of abuse between January 1980 and February 2015 were made to Catholic Church authorities.

Ms Furness said 60 percent of all abuse survivors attending private royal commission sessions reported sexual abuse at faith-based institutions.

Of those, almost two-thirds reported abuse in Catholic institutions.

Ms Furness described the victims’ accounts as “depressingly similar”.

“Children were ignored or worse, punished,” she said.

“Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”

The average age of the victims at the time they were allegedly abused was 10 for girls and 11 for boys.

Religious orders were in the firing line with the data suggesting that between 1950 and 2010, more than 20 percent of Marist Brothers, Salesians of the Don Bosco and Christian Brothers had allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

For the St John of God Brothers, that number was 40.4 percent.

It is the first time the data has been released.

Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”

The average age of the victims at the time they were allegedly abused was 10 for girls and 11 for boys.

Religious orders were in the firing line with the data suggesting that between 1950 and 2010, more than 20 per cent of Marist Brothers, Salesians of the Don Bosco and Christian Brothers had allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

For the St John of God Brothers, that number was 40.4 per cent.

It is the first time the data has been released.

Nearly 1300 priests accused of abusing children

One of the Catholic Church’s most senior figures choked up as he acknowledged nearly 1300 priests had been accused of abusing children.

Francis Sullivan from the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council described the number as “shocking”.

“These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible,” he said.

“Each entry in this data, for the most part represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for, and protected them.”

The Archbishops of Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra-Goulburn have congregated in Sydney to give evidence as part of the three-week public hearing.

Questions are expected to focus on the extent of child abuse over almost seven decades and what church leaders are doing to protect children.

This is the 50th public hearing of the four-year-long royal commission and it is the 16th dealing with abuse in the Catholic Church.

The royal commission has investigated how institutions across the country, including schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations, have responded to allegations and instances of abuse.


State abuse inquiry a ‘long time coming’

State abuse inquiry a ‘long time coming’

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the historical abuse of children in residential state care has been a long time coming – so long, in fact, that a number of the former wards we will hear from will probably be well into their 80s.


In terms of summoning old ghosts, however, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deserves credit for allowing a comprehensive political fact-finding exercise in which the reputation of some previous Labour governments also appear booked to take a wallop.

New governments, after all, typically tend to concentrate on serving up rich sauces of symbolism, high in popular cholesterol and with much joyfully self-referential music playing in the background.

The idea usually is not to make them potentially damaging to their own political health or that of their party brand.

Ms Ardern has said the inquiry, which will be the most retrospectively far-reaching of its kind to be held in her first term, will not primarily be about the individual cases RNZ and other media have highlighted over the past 18 months.

Rather, she says, it will be about examining those systems that failed. It will look at what governments did and didn’t do as they blundered for the most part through the decades in looking for new ways to care for the neglected young and those who landed on the wrong side of the youth courts.

Many of those administrations were Labour-led.

Troubled history

It was, after all, under a Labour government that these onetime educational residences became the youth crime facilities that have featured in so many of the hard-luck stories that the public has become familiar with over recent years.

The first dramatic turn for the worse almost certainly occurred in 1972 when the old Child Welfare Division of the Department of Education, as it had been known since 1948, morphed into the then new Department of Social Welfare, which assumed the oversight of the country’s residential institutions.

Many of the abuse claims currently outstanding relate to the years immediately following this change, which passed on the watch of the third Labour government.

Fifteen years on, it was another Labour government that began winding down the national operation as it had become.

What remained of the 26 residences closed their doors – but there was to be no closure of the sort the Royal Commission will be looking to give and which Labour at the time, had it not been mired in its own ideological civil war, might have provided.

As the reverberations of the failed experiment first began to be felt, it also fell to the last Labour government to deal with the hundreds of miserable claims made by former wards.

The government of former prime minister Helen Clark oversaw the establishment of a Historical Claims Unit within MSD, which soon found itself overwhelmed by petitioners.

Outstanding claims

Within a couple of years, the number of claims in the unit’s quiver had reached 140 – many of them highly complex – that somehow had to be dealt with by a team comprising just five advisors and a couple of administrative staff.

By the unit’s own estimate in 2010, around two-thirds of the claims the hard-working unit had worked on had reached some kind of agreeable resolution, whether in the provision of important information or the issuing of an ex grata payment, usually at the lower end of the spectrum up to $30,000.

But this accounted for just 36 such claims; a further 137 still awaited action even at that point, and the number over recent years has only grown apace.

None of this to suggest the issue has been only of Labour’s making. Indeed, more than most, the matter of these old residences remains an equal-opportunity political offender, reflecting not only the two major parties but others like the Māori Party and the Greens who between them barely murmured when the subject first began to air.

What is more, it was the National Party that refused to countenance any kind of official inquiry at all.

“Today we are sending the strongest possible signal about how seriously we see this issue by setting up a Royal Commission of Inquiry,” Ms Ardern said in announcing the overdue remedy. True enough. But she is also sending the strongest possible signal that few previous administrations are likely to emerge with their reputations enhanced by it.

* David Cohen, a former ward of Epuni Boys’ Home, is the author of Little Criminals (Random House), a portrait of the state-run children’s residences that operated in New Zealand between the 1950s and late 1980s.