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Australian clerical abuse protocol comes under intense scrutiny

Church's 'Toward Healing' protocol is widely criticized

<p>Picture: National Catholic Reporter</p>

Picture: National Catholic Reporter

  • Stephen Crittenden for National Catholic Reporter
  • Australia
  • January 2, 2014
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Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse have been complaining for years about their dissatisfaction with Towards Healing, the Catholic church's national protocol for responding to abuse.

The inner workings of Towards Healing were laid bare in November and December during two weeks of public hearings held here before the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, chaired by New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Peter McClellan.

The royal commission was established in November 2012 to inquire into how private, public and nongovernment institutions, including churches, have responded to child sexual abuse, and to make recommendations on improvements where systems have failed. With more than 5,000 people expected to come forward to tell their stories, it is likely to take years to complete its work. One thousand private hearings have already been conducted.

One of the most shocking revelations in early December concerned the handling of allegations of abuse by Marist Br. Raymond Foster, a teacher who committed suicide in 1999, just hours before he was due to face charges of abusing a 13-year-old boy in a north Queensland school in the early 1970s.

He left a suicide note: "I bear no ill will against the person who had me charged as he had every right to do so and I ask his forgiveness if he would be so kind." Foster was 68 at the time of his death.

But the Marist Brothers, one of the largest male teaching orders operating in Australia, concealed the note and publicly claimed Foster died of natural causes.

His victim, identified by the pseudonym DG, said he had felt guilty over Foster's death. "They made me feel I was harassing a sick old man rather than seeking justice for the actions of a devious, slothful and drunken child molester."

DG said he had participated in the Towards Healing process in 2002 and met with Marist Br. Michael Hill, the order's provincial at the time, but hadn't been told about the suicide note until recently and then from the royal commission.

In his evidence to the commission, Hill apologized for mishandling DG's case.

Another former Marist provincial, Br. Alexis Turton, who was the director of professional standards for the Sydney province between 2002 and 2012, gave evidence that he had received 128 abuse complaints during that period. The order has 234 members.

"We had a significant problem. We have a significant problem," he told the commissioner.

At the time Towards Healing was introduced in 1997, it was the first national abuse protocol developed by the Catholic church anywhere in the world. Towards Healing was intended to provide an opportunity for abuse victims to tell their story to somebody in authority in the church, receive an apology, and be offered pastoral care and reparation.

So far, 1,700 people have been through the Towards Healing process. Three-quarters of the cases relate to incidents that occurred between 1950 and 1980; 43 percent involve abuse by religious brothers; 21 percent by diocesan priests; and 14 percent by religious priests.

The Christian Brothers, followed by the Marist Brothers and the De La Salle Brothers, had the most complaints against them.

Nationally, the Australian church has paid AU$43 million (US$38.5 million) in compensation under the scheme.

Towards Healing has also been through a number of revisions over the years. The senior barrister representing the church, Peter Gray, told the commission the process was not perfect. "It is quite plainly inconsistent in its implementation and variable in the outcomes it delivers. That is in part a reflection of the application of the process across the country by so many different church bodies."

Full Story: Australian inquiry scrutinizes church

Source: National Catholic Reporter

 

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