Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears
Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears
By Pat Stavropoulos and Samantha Donovan
From the Link: Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears
A survivor of child sex abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest and a family member was asked by police if she was wearing a neon sign saying “come and get me” above her head when she was a teenager, an inquiry has heard.
Witness Julie Stewart broke down as she told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that she was repeatedly abused by Father Searson at Doveton, from when she was in grade three.
The inquiry heard that when she was 15, she was approached by police about allegations against Father Searson after they received reports she was a possible victim.
She said because she had also been sexually abused by a relative from the ages of five to eight, she found it hard to tell anyone she had also been abused by Father Searson.
She said her admission that she had been abused by two men prompted the police officer to remark “oh my God, what, were you wearing a neon sign above your head, ‘come and get me?'”.
The police took no further action.
She told the inquiry she would blame herself, often thinking there was something wrong with her.
Priest’s abuse began in primary school
Ms Stewart said the abuse began at the Holy Family School, where Father Searson was the parish priest.
She said he would often visit her class and hug the children, including her.
“At first I loved the attention,” she said.
“He was a priest, and it made me feel special.”
Ms Stewart told the royal commission Father Searson abused her between 12 and 14 times, beginning in 1984.
“It began with kisses on the lips,” she said.
“On about the fifth time and on each subsequent occasion, Father Searson also touched me.
“When he started to touch me, I knew it was wrong and it was sexual.”
After that, she said she would wear tracksuit pants or stockings to make it harder for him to touch her.
She told the inquiry the last time she went to confession was in 1985, when she was in grade four.
On that occasion, Father Searson placed her on his lap, so she could feel his erection against her backside.
“He pushed me hard against him. It hurt. He whispered in my ear, ‘you are a good girl, the Lord forgives you’,” she said.
“I snapped, I pushed myself off him, I ran out of the confessional, I was sobbing and hyperventilating.”
‘I will no longer be a victim’: Julie Stewart
Ms Stewart also spoke about how she tried to take her life as a young teenager.
She said she had become rebellious and hated her parents.
It was not until late 1996, or early 1997, after a chance meeting with a former teacher that she was told a Queen’s Counsel had been hired by then Archbishop of Melbourne George Pell to investigate Father Searson.
She said a year later, she received a cheque of $25,000 from the Archdiocese and a letter of apology from Cardinal Pell, through the Melbourne Response.
But she said the hearing to resolve her claim was distressing.
“I was made to sit facing Father Searson, and I was questioned by his lawyer for a long time,” she said.
“I was not prepared for how hostile the cross-examination was.
“I was taken into another room and asked to sign a confidentially agreement. I don’t remember what it said but I signed it. I just wanted to leave.
“When I left the hearing I broke down and cried … I felt that the whole process re-traumatised me.”
She completed her testimony, saying she still cried for the little girl she once was, but that she wanted to be a voice for survivors.
“The little girl that never got to be a normal little girl, doing all the things that little girls should do, the little girl that always wanted to fit in but always felt like a weirdo,” she said.
“Nothing can ever give that back to me. It is a life sentence and every day I make a choice to keep going.
“It is important to me to tell my story now, because I want peace for myself.
“I’m not ashamed anymore and I no longer blame myself. I will no longer be a victim.”
Cardinal George Pell backs Vatican over dealings with abuse victims
- Herald Sun
- August 21, 2014
From the Link: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/cardinal-george-pell-backs-vatican-over-dealings-with-abuse-victims/story-fni0fee2-1227032175413?sv=6abf015f21205d06311103e05f9b1614&nk=7a95cce4e928348f27a4e9b21b943770
CARDINAL George Pell last night backed the Vatican over victims of sexual abuse saying it was unreasonable for the Royal Commission to request papal documents regarding every case of abusive clergy.
Giving evidence to the abuse royal commission via videolink from Rome Cardinal Pell said the Vatican was right to refuse to release papal documents relating to every abuse case involving an Austrlian cleric. Describing those documents as “internal working documents of another sovereign state” Cardinal Pell said the Church had provided 5000 pages of documents which he deemed sufficient.
In a letter to the commission in July Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin refused a request by commissioner Justice Peter McClellan for documents with respect to “each case” of clerical abuse.
He said the Commission wanted to understand the extent to which Australian clerics accused of child sexual abuse had been referred to the Holy See. The Cardinal outraged victims by admitting he hadn’t been following the Royal Commission because he had been busy in Rome.
The comments sparked audible gasps from victims who had turned out to watch his evidence.
During almost three hours of testimony he was forced to defend claims he acted disingenuosly when dealing with victims.
He was also forced to reject suggestions he sought to protect the Church’s finances instead of helping victims.
“My primary concern was to try to help the victims,” Cardinal Pell said. “I have been wrestling with the problem for 18 years.”
Cardinal Pell introduced the Melbourne Response to deal with complaints of sexual abuse in 1996 just months after being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne.
He said he knew he had to act to deal with the suffering of dozens of sexual abuse victims.
“There was evidence that something needed to be done to deal with the suffering,” he said.
“It was felt this compensation panel was only one arm of the appraoch, to lessen suffering and to help these people and to do it quickly rather than have it drag on forever.
“We fully accepted our moral responsibilty towards those who had suffered”. He said he never anticipated the volume of complaints against paedophile priests when he launched the program.
Almost 20 years after its inception more than 300 victims of sexual abuse have been paid more than $17 million through the Melbourne Response scheme. But it has been heavily criticised for discouraging victims from going to police about their abuse.
Cardinal Pell admitted the structure of the church made it difficult for victims to seek compensation through the courts.
He said victims of sexual abuse had two choices: take a maximum church payout of $50,000 or risk getting nothing.
“Many of the peole we helped through the compensation panel would have received nothing or very little after going through thte courts,” he said. “Some certainly would have received more. They were free to choose whether they entered into our compensation system, knowing there was a $50,000 cap or go through the courts.
“We only did what other comparable groups did or paid.
“Certainly I myself and the members of that compensation panel were aware of the contemporary standards of compensation then and our record shows we were ahead of the curve.”
The church considered creating a legal entity in 1996 that could be sued by victims, but designed the Melbourne Response compensation scheme instead which limited payouts to victims to $50,000 that later increased to $75,000. Cardinal Pell told the royal commission earlier this year he believed the church should now create an entity that could be sued.
In 2007 the New South Wales Appeals Court ruled the Church could not be held liable for the conduct of its priests.
It also ruled it could not be sued.
Victims have, on average, received $33,000 from the Melbourne archdiocese, while those who pursued independent actions received, on average, $293,000. The Melbourne Response was one of the global Church’s first schemes to offer redress to victims of paedophile priests.
Child sex abuse royal commission: Child abuse claims in Victoria cost Catholic Church $34m, inquiry hears
Child sex abuse royal commission: Child abuse claims in Victoria cost Catholic Church $34m, inquiry hears
Child abuse claims in Victoria since 1996 have cost the Catholic Church more than $34 million, an inquiry has heard.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating the church’s so-called Melbourne Response to allegations of child sexual abuse by its clergy.
The scheme was introduced by Cardinal Pell when he was Melbourne’s archbishop in 1996, and was a first of its kind.
It allowed anyone allegedly abused by priests or others under the authority of the archbishop to have what the church called “an independent commissioner” to investigate their claims and make findings.
Compensation from the scheme was originally capped at $50,000 before being lifted to $75,000, with the cap a subject of contention among victims and their advocates.
Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said data from the Archdiocese of Melbourne showed abuse claims had cost the church more than $34 million.
“The total of ex gratia payments made under the Melbourne Response for child sexual abuse claims and amounts paid for medical counselling and treatment amounted to $17.295 million,” Ms Furness said.
“The cost of administering the Melbourne Response was $17.011 million.”
She told the commission victims had received larger payments by going outside of Melbourne Response scheme.
“The average compensation payment amount paid is $36,100,” she said.
“(A total of) $3,187 for those claims settled within the response, $168,000 for those that began within the Melbourne Response but settled outside, and just short of $300,000 for those outside the Melbourne Response.
“Since the cap increased to $75,000, the total amount of compensation paid to 65 victims of child sexual abuse has been $3.3 million, the average compensation payment being just over $50,000.”
Ms Furness told the inquiry that ex gratia payments made under the Melbourne Response scheme did not constitute an admission of liability.
“In announcing the Melbourne Response, it was stated that the establishment of the compensation panel and the offer of ex-gratia compensation payments were not an admission of liability,” she said.
“The archbishop, the archdiocese and the church, in the document recording the Melbourne Response, did not accept that they had any legal obligation to make payments to complainants.”
The hearings were interrupted after lunch by a power outage in the area.
Couple whose daughter died pulled out of ‘Melbourne Response’
Christine Foster, the mother of victims of Catholic Church abuse, was the first witness to take the stand this morning.
Two of Christine and Anthony Foster’s three daughters were assaulted by a Catholic priest while in primary school. One subsequently committed suicide.
Ms Furness said Mrs Foster would give evidence that “Emma and Katie were abused by their parish priest, Father Kevin O’Donnell, when they were students at Sacred Heart primary school” and that the abuse continued in their early years at primary school and beyond.
“Neither Mrs Foster nor Anthony were aware of the abuse at the time it occurred,” she said.
Mrs Foster then gave harrowing details of the impact of O’Donnell’s sexual abuse of her two daughters.
She said Emma, who suffered from anorexia, and had at least 900 doctor, specialist and pathology visits, at least 75 outpatient psychology appointments, and more than 50 admissions to hospital, detox and rehabilitation clinics, before taking her own life in 2008.
Katie took to binge drinking to escape the memories of her abuse.
Mrs Foster said she was hit by a car after binge drinking in 1999 and now required 24-hour care.
Mrs Foster told the commission that church leaders appeared “stand-offish” and did not appear to want to listen to concerned parents at a meeting.
She said the family initially participated in the Melbourne Response scheme.
“Nothing about this process was transparent,” Ms Foster said.
They received an offer of $50,000 for Emma, which was then the maximum, which Emma accepted, although she did not sign the trust deed.
“We told Emma not to accept the offer as we knew this would end all her rights,” Mrs Foster said.
The Fosters later decided to pursue legal action against the Catholic Church, instead of continuing through the Melbourne Response scheme.
Mrs Foster said she was shocked to discover the defendants did not admit that Emma and Katie had been sexually abused.
They eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, of $750,000 plus costs, believed to be the largest compensation payout of its kind in Australia.
Six months after Emma’s death, the Fosters were accused of “dwelling crankily on old wounds”.
Mrs Foster told the commission she believed they settled for an amount of money that was far less than what their children were entitled to.
She and her husband wanted the cap on payments removed and all past claims reviewed.
One priest the subject of 19pc of compensation claims
The commission heard O’Donnell’s actions accounted for almost a fifth (19 per cent) of all compensation paid by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
The archdiocese paid people who were abused by O’Donnell $1,886,100 through the Melbourne Response scheme, up to March this year, the commission was told.
Other complaints about O’Donnell, who was a parish priest in Oakleigh, have been settled outside the scheme.
The total amount of compensation and counselling costs paid in relation to O’Donnell is $2,934,390.
The two institutions subject to the largest number of complaints are the Sacred Heart Primary School and the Sacred Heart Parish in Oakleigh.
Church asked me to sign away rights: witness
The commission also heard that Melbourne priest, Father Victor Rubeo, targetted two generations of one family.
Paul Hersbach gave evidence about the behaviour of Rubeo, who lived at times with him and his family.
He told the commission that the abuse started when he was about seven years old, when Rubeo would come into his bedroom and sit on the bed, or would watch him and his brother when they were naked in the bath.
He told the commission that Rubeo would shower him and his brother with gifts, including computers, a CD player and a go-kart.
Mr Hersbach testified that Rubeo had his own room at the Hersbach home at one stage and was involved in every aspect of the family’s lives – he opened the mail, paid the bills and bought groceries
“I thought it was normal,” he told the court.
Mr Hersbach testified that his father, Tony Hersbach, was abused decades earlier when he was an altar boy.
After his father made a complaint about his own abuse, Mr Hersbach said, Rubeo asked him to repay the $10,000 he given the family for the house.
In 1996 Rubeo pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting Mr Hersbach’s father and uncle.
Fresh charges were laid in 2010, but Rubeo died on the day he was due in court for his committal in 2011.
Paul Hersbach met with Peter O’Callaghan QC, a commissioner under the Melbourne response scheme, after disclosing his own abuse in 2006.
He said Mr O’Callaghan told him he could go to the police if he wanted, but based on what Mr Hersbach had told him, he did not think anything would happen.
Mr Hersbach did not approach the police.
He later received a compensation offer of $17,500.
“The Catholic Church has taken so much from me,” Mr Hersbach said.
“It had complete and utter control of my life.”
He said the irony was that just as he took action against the church, but was then asked to sign away his rights to take further action against them as part of the deed of settlement in which he received $17,500 in compensation.
Melbourne Response upheld 326 complaints since 1996
Ms Furness said Melbourne Archdiocese data revealed that 351 complaints had been made under the Melbourne Response scheme since it began in 1996.
“Of these complaints, 326 were upheld by an independent commissioner, nine were not upheld and 16 are currently defined as being undetermined,” she said.
“The undetermined claims are either dormant, ongoing, the complainant is deceased, or the complainant is described as considering civil proceedings.”
Of the 326 upheld complaints, the data showed 80 per cent occurred between 1950 and 1980 inclusive, 14 per cent occurred between 1981 and 1990, and 2 per cent related to alleged incidents between 1991 and 2006, Ms Furness said.
The remaining 4 per cent related to incidents between 1937 and 1949, she said.
She said 77 individuals had been named as the subject of one or more of the upheld complaints.
“Of these, just over half, 42, are known by the archbishop to be dead,” she said.
She said 84 per cent of complaints heard by the Melbourne Response scheme were about priests.
One in 20 priests an abuser, inquiry told
- October 23, 2012
- Called for married priests, as are being allowed now in the Anglican ordinariate within the Catholic Church, as a “circuit-breaker” that would reduce child sex abuse. The state should remove the Equal Opportunity Act exemption letting the church discriminate on grounds of marital status, he said.
- Described the Church as “a holy and unholy mess, except where religious sisters or laypeople are in charge, for example schools and welfare agencies”.
- Called for an “eminent Catholic task force” of lay people to work with the Church on reform and transparency.
- Said other religions were not immune from child sex abuse, including credible anecdotal evidence of two incidents within Melbourne’s Hindu community where the offending monks were “shipped back to the home country”.
AT LEAST one in 20 Catholic priests in Melbourne is a child sex abuser, although the real figure is probably one in 15, the state inquiry into the churches’ handling of sex abuse was told yesterday.
RMIT professor Des Cahill said his figures, based on analyzing conviction rates of priests ordained from Melbourne’s Corpus Christi College, closely matched a much larger American analysis of 105,000 priests which found that 4362 were child sex offenders.
The intercultural studies professor also told the inquiry that the Catholic Church was incapable of reforming itself because of its internal culture. He said the Church’s Melbourne Response abuse protocol had to go, and the state would have to intervene to achieve it.
In other key testimony, Professor Cahill:
Professor Cahill said that 14 of 378 Corpus Christi priests graduating between 1940 and 1966 were convicted of child sexual abuse, and church authorities had admitted that another four who had died were also abusers, a rate of 4.76 per cent.
But the actual figure was much higher when under-reporting was taken into account, along with cases dealt with in secret by the Catholic Church. “One in 20 is a minimum. It might be one in 15, perhaps not as high as one in 10,” he said.
He suggested that, though the Church tried to “fudge the figures” by including other church workers, Catholic priests offended at a much higher rate than other men. If the general male population now over 65 offended at the same rate, there would be 65,614 men living in Australia who had been convicted of child sex abuse — very far from the case.
Professor Cahill said the Church’s “culture of caste clericalism” and its pyramid structure rendered it incapable of the systemic reform needed. The organisational culture was “verging on the pathological”.
“Bishops are caught between canon law and civil law, and Rome has put a lot of pressure on bishops to make sure canon law and the rights of priests are being observed, but canon law has nothing to say about the rights of child victims,” he said.
The Melbourne Response — the internal protocol used by the Melbourne archdiocese — was designed to protect the image and reputation of the church and to contain financial liability, and had to be changed. “The church is incapable of reform, so the state will have to do it,” he said
He suggested a new structure involving the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner and a new “eminent Catholics task force”, appointed by the Government, to work with Church leadership. Possible candidates included former Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent, La Trobe professor Joseph Camilleri, former Geelong mayor Frank Costa, former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, Mrs Diana Grollo, state chief health officer Rosemary Lester, retired Ballarat bishop Peter Connors, retired Melbourne priest Eric Hodgens and Australian Catholic University professor Gabrielle McMullin.
Professor Cahill said child sex abuse had existed in all ages, cultures and religions, shrouded in secrecy and poorly responded to by religious authorities. He said a church council in 309 AD was concerned about child sex abuse in monasteries.
One in 11 Victorians identified with a religion other than Christianity, up 68 per cent in 10 years, and Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews all had issues to do with sex abuse, especially in other countries.
In Sri Lanka, child sex abuse was rampant in Buddhist monasteries, and more than 100 monks had been charged in the past decade. Child sex abuse had been called “India’s time bomb”, especially the plight of street children, while many Muslim communities were in denial, he said. Melbourne Jewish groups were making their own submission to the inquiry.