To keep you informed of meetings, activities and developments related to the Royal Commission regular updates will be posted here by the staff and members of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council

So, what's next?
19 May 2016

After nearly three-and-a-half years into the Royal Commission’s inquiry the overriding narrative of how institutions dealt with the sexual abuse of children is fairly obvious.

Whether they were religious settings or not, the institutions placed their interests before those of the victims. Even worse, the officials often didn’t believe the victims and sought evidence to further disprove their claims.

Institutions kept the allegations from the police and other authorities. Where reparation was made available it was usually inadequate, haphazard and a drawn out affair.

In sum, the might of institutions far outweighed the needs, rights and dignity of their victims.

This miserable tale has been repeated time after time through the Royal Commission’s public case studies. It is a scorching historical account.

That said, there is another story that has slowly emerged in the last twenty years – a story of restorative justice.

Putting it bluntly, once the Catholic bishops and religious leaders made a serious commitment to approach the child abuse scandal in a pastoral, rather than a defensive way, the needs of victims and the demands for restorative justice began to shape official complaints handling protocols and reparation schemes.

Of course for too many people this was a slow train coming. For others they still fell foul to poorly applied protocols and systems. But at least on an objective basis the development of Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response were seismic shifts in the Church’s approach to victims.

Now the Royal Commission has distributed Issues Paper 11 calling for community input into various elements of the Catholic Church’s life and culture. This clearly is a preliminary information collecting exercise prior to the scheduled final summary hearing for the Catholic Church in February next year.

I think this indicates that the Commission is now very much in its second major phase of this inquiry. That is, beginning to identify the administrative areas that require remediation and realignment with best practice.

In many ways this is integral to the lasting legacy of the Commission’s work. What legislative and administrative requirements, safeguards, monitoring and commitments to continuous improvement need to be present in every organisation which involves children and services to children.

Of course there will be particular measures that the Catholic Church has and will put in place due to its arrangements, personnel and services. Telling that story will be important.


Redress is an election issue
11 May 2016

The starter gun had barely fired and the issue of a national redress scheme for victims of institutional child abuse was on the hustings! This time it came courtesy of The Greens! Senator Rachel Siewert and her colleagues have indicated that they will push both Labor and the Coalition to deliver a national scheme along the lines first proposed by the Royal Commission.

This is consistent with what we have called for and it is certainly what victims groups prefer. A system where redress is available for victims regardless of where or when they were abused. A system that places the onus for payment on the institution responsible, including government agencies. A system that can be independently administered where victims have their redress determined by a panel that has no connection with the institution responsible.

So far the momentum for a national scheme, even a nationally consistent series of schemes, has been very ad hoc. We know that states like Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are working towards the creation of redress schemes. They are sending signals that a national approach is also their preference.

But the kicker to this deal is the Commonwealth Government. So far only the pure optimist would be placing their hopes in the resolve and determination of the Commonwealth to get behind a serious and effective national scheme.

All the indications are that the Commonwealth wants to slip out from under any responsibility to deliver redress for victims, even though it was the Commonwealth government that initiated, extended and funded the current Royal Commission. A commission that easily has become the most expensive in the history of their kind in Australia. A commission whose very first and arguably most important recommendation was calling for a national redress system administered by the Commonwealth government. The irony of the situation we now face is breath taking! 

Does this mean that all the Commission's recommendations face the same fate? Does this reveal the scant regard the Commonwealth intends to take to the work of this Commission because its findings are too difficult or too close for comfort? Or does this show that when all is said and done, the might of governments and the clout of institutions once again will relegate the voices of those who have suffered, and still suffer, to the shadows of silence and disregard!


Private sessions come to an end, and greater demand for national redress
5 May 2016

Late last week the Royal Commission announced it would be closing registrations for private sessions on 30 September 2016.

This is a significant event and the first very clear public announcement indicating that the Royal Commission is now entering into the final phases of its life.

The private sessions have played an integral part in the Commission’s work.

They have provided survivors with the opportunity to share their story directly with a Commissioner in a private, safe setting with both their own and the Commission’s support on hand.

In a statement from the Commission last week Peter McClellan said ‘the rate at which people come to the Commission seeking a private session shows no present sign of diminishing. It has averaged 37 per week over the past 12 months.’

‘If the present demand for private sessions continues throughout the life of the Commission, unless we close off applications well before we complete our final report, many people who may seek a private session will be disappointed.’

What has become clear from the Commission’s reports and comments from Peter McClellan is that information gathered from survivors in the private sessions has proved critical to the Commission’s investigations and, to a large extent, has influenced which institutions would be the subject of public hearings.

In the Commission’s interim report in 2014 the statistics drawn from the private hearings showed one in three people coming to tell their story to the Commission had been abused in a Catholic institution.

This one in three figure roughly represents the proportion of public hearings that have focused on the Catholic Church.

But more significantly than just pointing to where the Commission should investigate, the private sessions have played a very real part for many survivors in their personal journey of recovery.

This month the Commission heard its 5,000th private session nearly three years to the day since it heard its first in May 2013.

Following the announcement that private session registration would soon stop the Blue Knot Foundation issued a media release calling on the Federal Government to commit to a national redress scheme before the election.

Blue Knot Foundation President, Cathy Kezelman, said action was now needed to reassure survivors who had told their story ‘that their courage will be a catalyst for systemic changes to optimise the safety of our children in institutions in the future’.

‘The reassurance would be best achieved through a national redress scheme, which can deliver justice through compensation, a direct personal response from institutions and accessible and equitable counselling and psychological care,’ Dr Kezelman said.

Earlier this year we joined with the Blue Knot Foundation, CLAN and the Australian Council of Social Services calling on the Federal Government to act on the Commission’s redress recommendations and back a national, independent redress scheme for abuse survivors.

While the Labor opposition has said it would bring in a national scheme if it is returned to power the Turnbull government has rejected the Commission’s recommendation opting instead for a scheme that will see states and territories run separate but similar schemes.

Other than some of the state governments it is very hard to find anyone who supports this approach. What the survivors clearly want and what most institutions are also calling for is a national scheme.

There is still plenty of time for the Federal Government to demonstrate its support for the Commission and for survivors, by backing a scheme which will deliver fair, fast and consistent redress regardless of where or when a child was abused.


Change is taking place
29 April 2016

This week the Royal Commission finalised hearing evidence into its public hearing about the way in which the Archdiocese of Melbourne responded to allegations of child sexual abuse while earlier this month the Commission also finalised hearing evidence into the Ballarat case study.

Together these two hearings have run over more than 12 months and have attracted a huge amount of media coverage and commentary from all parts of the community.

The behavior of many priests and religious in Ballarat and in Doveton in Melbourne was truly appalling and the two case studies have highlighted how poorly church leaders responded the victims.

It now looks like there may only be one or two more public hearings involving the Catholic Church before the Commission’s final public hearing early next year which will again focus on ‘why’ so much child sexual abuse took place in Catholic Church institutions.

With the end of these last two hearings, as protracted and difficult as they have been, there might now be some space to start to talk about what the church has done over the past 20 years to make children safer in our schools, dioceses, parishes and homes.

It might now also be time to start talking about what different diocese and orders have done since the Commission started its work just under three and a half years ago – and there has been plenty.

More and more dioceses and congregations are engaging specialised child protection staff reporting directly to bishops and congregation leaders. Child protection policies are being overhauled and reporting and compliance requirements strengthened.

Congregations are putting in place new guidelines for dealing with survivors wanting to take claims to Court and many are opening up past settlements for reconsideration.

The albatross that is colloquially known as the Ellis defense is starting to become a thing of the past with dioceses and congregations on the record saying they will help identify a proper defendant in civil claims of child sexual abuse.

Many parishes are actively talking about how they can be involved in supporting child sex abuse survivors locally and what can be done within a parish to help.

And we are moving closer to setting up an independent church body to set, oversee and publically report on standards of child and vulnerable adult protections across the whole church in Australia.

The big challenge for us now is to find the language and the way in which we can communicate the very significant changes that have taken place without being seen to be trying to deflect from the crimes and failures of the past.

It will be a very long time before many in the community will be able to look at our church and say that it is now a different place but the fact is – much has changed and not just since the Commission started its work.

From the ground up we will need to start talking about these changes and what they mean for abuse survivors, children currently in our institutions and for the broader Catholic community.


National approach to police reporting urgently required
22 April 2016

This week the Royal Commission held a public roundtable dealing with the contentious issue of the reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to the police.

According to media reports, since 2009 non-government organisations across NSW have made some 1,500 ‘blind reports’ to NSW Police. A blind report is a report to police in which all the information received about the allegation is provided other than the name of the person making the allegation.

This generally happens because the victim or the person making the claim doesn’t want the police to know who they are.

There are many reasons for this, ranging from the victim wanting to remain anonymous, they haven’t told their family and friends about the abuse, they don’t want a police investigation to reveal their identity.

In many cases, particularly when the perpetrator is dead, the only action the survivor wants is for the responsible church authority to be aware of what happened, to apologise, and to ensure the abuse they suffered can’t happen again.

While this might seem reasonable from the perspective of the survivor it poses real problems for police if they want to investigate the allegation and could result in a perpetrator continuing to abuse children.

As a result of the clear problems ‘blind reporting’ creates congregations and dioceses across NSW have stopped the practice and now provide all information to the police including the victim’s name, regardless of their wish to remain anonymous.

And in the case of the NSW Professional Standards Office, they are going back over all their historic ‘blind reports’ to provide the name of the survivor.

Last year a NSW Police Integrity Commission report recommended that the practice of ‘blind reporting’ should be reviewed. While many dioceses including Parramatta, Wollongong, Broken Bay and Maitland-Newcastle had already stopped blind reporting, this report brought the practice to a stop in the Professional Standards Office in NSW.

Apart from the problems ‘blind reporting’ clearly created, the solution has to be more widespread than just in NSW.

In a submission from the Truth Justice and Healing Council in August last year to the Royal Commission’s issues paper on police reporting we made a recommendation that there should be nationally consistent criminal law provision in relation to reporting child sexual abuse crimes.

The submission proposed a requirement that a person who has information leading the person to form a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed against a child to disclose that information to the police unless the person has a reasonable excuse for not doing so.

This could include that the person believes the information has already been the subject of reporting under mandatory reporting laws.

This sort of national approach would ensure everyone fully understands what is required when they learn of an abuse allegation and what information needs to be passed on to the police.

In so many different issues relating to child sexual abuse many of the solutions are hamstrung by the seeming unwillingness of states to come together and produce nationally consistent laws.

We see the same problem in relation to working with children checks, out of home care regulations, redress of abuse survivors and more.

The time is well and truly passed when state government sensibilities over their own laws should be allowed to stand in the way of the protection of children.

The Royal Commission in all its reports inevitably recommends nationally consistent laws. State and Federal Governments need to get on board. 


Perspective from UK member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors
13 April 2016

This week I met up with Baroness Sheila Hollins from the UK. She is a member of the House of Lords and has been appointed to Pope Francis' Commission for the Protection of Minors. She is a very accomplished and eminent person, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and part of the Vatican team sent to Ireland to inquire into the Diocese of Armagh.

Baroness Hollins speaks gently and frankly about the enormous task facing the global Catholic Church to address child abuse and to prevent it happening again. She acknowledges that some, like Pope Francis "get it ", and others don't.

Ever the realist she knows that real change takes shifts in culture as well as practice. For the Church, that means understanding the impacts of clericalism and the abuse of power. It means having a deep appreciation of how entrenched, defensive institutional attitudes pervade across the life of the Church. It means being explicit about how victims and survivors are placed first in every consideration.

Practical steps are required to bring compliance with safe guarding up to best practice. This is at the heart of the Royal Commission's agenda. It is also deeply sought after by victims who repeatedly ask that every measure is taken to prevent the abuse ever happening again.

Our Council has recommended a new oversight regime be instigated in the Church to such an end. Ideally governments would set up structures for all institutions that provide services for children. But governments are slow to move. Just look at how long they are taking to get their collective act together on national redress!

The Church needs to move now and hopefully governments will catch up.

Just as Baroness Hollins, and our Australian appointee to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Kath McCormack, toil with great purpose to provide the value-added advice the Holy Father desperately needs, our Council continues to prepare for a comprehensive analysis of the cultural and other factors that led to the emergence and management of the sex abuse scandal.

This is essential and urgent work.

Our Church must look at itself and honestly appraise where change is needed. To do otherwise will let everyone down.


Royal Commission wrap-up hearing on Catholic Church requires openness, not defensiveness
Francis Sullivan 6 April 2016

The Royal Commission has indicated that it intends to hold a final hearing on the Catholic Church in early 2017, four years after the Commission’s work began. This hearing will be designed to examine the ‘why’ question.

Although child sexual abuse has occurred in many institutions apart from the Catholic Church, it falls to the Commission to examine whether there were and are any distinctive characteristics or features of the Church environment that caused children to be abused. Hard as it is to acknowledge, the Catholic Church is the single largest institutional setting in which children have been abused.

I know that this has a contextual perspective, the Catholic Church did run most of the schools, orphanages and boarding houses across the 1950s, 60s and 70s. However, context is never an excuse. It is also not enough of an answer when most experts agree that institutional culture is a vital component when explaining institutional behaviour.

At this stage of the Royal Commission’s process it is tempting to adopt a defensive, reactionary stance.

There have already been 14 public hearings focused on the Church. Some people are asking what more needs to be revealed before it is plain what actually happened. Fair enough, but each hearing has produced new insights into the institutional responses by the Church.

They have also revealed those elements of our culture that promote secrecy, concealment and complicity. They have demonstrated that clericalism and careerism prevailed when justice and compassion were needed.

They made it obvious that decision-making was not undertaken responsibly, in accountable and transparent ways.

And most of all they showed that the instinctive reaction to defend the Church, to prevent scandal and to uphold institutional reputation drove the management of child sex abuse cases and relegated the needs of victims below those of the Church. 

These are damning results. They are grounded in the culture and systems of our Church. They expose a gross misuse of powers and structures. They cry out for reform.

Maladministration and clericalism, along with abuse of power and privilege ensured that the sex abuse scandal was concealed for so long.

My hunch is that this is exactly where Justice McClellan and his commissioners will be seeking answers.

They are not aiming to change Church teachings in the areas of faith and morals. It would be pointless attempting to change the nature of the Church as understood by people of faith.

So too would it be fruitless to insist on changes that by their very nature undermine the collective faith teachings of the Church. 

But I hope that they are going to run a rigorous eye over administrative policies, procedures and practices that led to the abuse, concealed the facts, protected perpetrators and miserably failed victims.

I for one will do everything possible to assist them.


Time for Governments to act on redress for child sexual abuse survivors
Francis Sullivan March 31, 2016

Tomorrow government leaders from across the country will meet to discuss many important issues dealing with great matters of state – tax, education, health and the like.

They will fly into Canberra with caravans of advisors and bureaucrats to take part in the imposingly named, Council of Australian Governments meeting. The Prime Minister will be there as will most, if not all state premiers.

But what appears to be off the COAG agenda is any discussion about a national redress scheme for the survivors of child sexual abuse.

For more than three and a half years terrible stories of abuse have filled newspapers and radio and TV bulletins.

What we have heard at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been horrifying.

Young children brutally abused by the very people who should have been protecting them: priests and teachers, welfare workers and dance instructors, sports coaches and house parents.

Opportunities squashed, lives lost, families devastated. 

The Catholic and other churches, state police, prosecutors and community service departments, sports and community organisations have all come under the intense scrutiny of the Commission.

There appear to be very few institutions which have dealt with children over the past half century in which abuse of one kind or another hasn’t taken place. It is a tragedy and betrayal that continues to cripple so many survivors so many years after the horrors took place.

When the Commission was announced at the end of 2012 it had the full support of politicians of all persuasions across the country.

Last year the Commission released a report into how, as a community, we can go about the long overdue business of providing fair and compassionate redress for child sexual abuse survivors.

The proposal would see the Commonwealth establish and then run a scheme in which abuse survivors can have a claim assessed and a redress payment independently determined. This payment would then be made by the organisation which ran the institution in which the abuse took place.

The scheme would, for the first time, provide consistent redress across the country for survivors regardless of where or when they were abused or who abused them.

Importantly it will be funded by the institutions themselves, not by the tax payer except when the abuse happened in a government home, mission or other state or federally operated facility.

Not one cent of taxpayer money will be spent on covering abuse in Catholic institutions.

The Commission’s redress proposal has received across-the-board support from most, if not all survivor groups, the Catholic Church and many other institutions with a history of child sexual abuse.

The rubber has now hit the road for our political leaders.

The only things holding back setting up what appears to be an eminently sensible proposal is the indecision of the federal government and unwillingness of some states.

Three and a half years ago, when the Commission first started, politicians from all persuasions were quick to show their support. It now seems extraordinary that one of the Commission’s key recommendations is being effectively watered down to a scheme that does not meet the expectations of the Commission or survivors.

It’s not too late for this important issue to become part of the COAG agenda and it is certainly not too late for preliminary funding to be made available in the upcoming federal budget.

If our political leaders do not start to seriously discuss national redress for child sexual abuse survivors it’s difficult to draw any conclusion other than that they don’t really care.

While I hope this is wrong, so far there has been little evidence for optimism.

This blog appeared as an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph on 31 March 2016.


United call for national CSA redress, Lateline and Easter
Francis Sullivan21 March 2016

Last week, for the first time, the peak child abuse survivors groups and the Catholic Church, under the banner of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, came together as one voice to call on governments across the nation to get on with national redress.

The collective, made up of Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Care Leavers Australasia Network, Australian Council of Social Service, People with Disability Australia and the TJHC called on the Federal Government to announce its concrete commitment to a National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional childhood sexual abuse.

A media statement, which included logos of all five organisations, made it clear the diverse group is undivided in their support for a national scheme, as recommended by the Royal Commission.

Dr Cathy Kezelman President of ASCA called on all governments to work with institutions to deliver real justice and healing to Australian survivors as a matter of absolute priority.

Leonie Sheedy, from CLAN said the last thing Care Leavers need is another unfair system which does not address their chronically unmet needs.

As I have said many times Australia needs an independent national redress scheme so that regardless of where or when a survivor was abused they have access to consistent, compassionate and generous redress.

Cassandra Goldie from ACOSS said the correct action on this important issue can’t be delayed any longer.

The voice from the survivor groups and the Church couldn’t be louder.

Together we are asking governments to do the right thing, stick by their commitments to abuse survivors and get on with the job of delivering a fair and reasonable national redress not a half-baked, state-based approach that will, over a few years, devolve into the very mess we currently have.

Lateline last week ran a story calling on all CSA files in the Melbourne Archdiocese and the Vatican to be effectively dumped at the doors of the Royal Commission and made available to the police.

The Church has provided all documents to the Royal Commission at their request. The Royal Commission has not asked for the documents referred to in the Lateline report.

Neither the police nor the Commission have issue with not having these files. The Commission has said Catholic Church authorities have responded to all Royal Commission requests for documents including those relating to their interactions with the Vatican.

Victoria Police said it will await the findings and any recommendations of the Royal Commission.

On a different note, I’d just like to acknowledge this Easter season. It’s a time of rebirth and renewal in the Christian calendar.

The grace we all pray for is a new way of seeing. An openness to the perspectives of others and the voices of people who have different opinions and beliefs than our own. Many of us are deeply challenged by the revelations coming out of the Royal Commission.

It is my hope that humility and compassion will prevail and that the testimony and suffering of so many people will lead to big changes in this Church of ours.


Cardinal Müller’s revisionist view damages church and denies victims
Francis Sullivan, 15 March 2016

Last week one of the most senior Cardinals in the Vatican and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller made comments in an interview with one of Germany’s major dailies that the clerical perpetrators of child sexual abuse must take the responsibility for their crimes and not ‘innocent men’ who were close to them professionally.

This is something I thought I would never hear again, that old and tired and deceitful idea that clerical child sexual abuse was the fault of a ‘few bad apples’ and that there is no requirement on the Church as a whole to share in the blame and as a consequence take responsibility for the devastating results.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the final tribunal for priestly sexual abuse cases – it is where, within Church structures, abusive priests are judged and decisions made about their future.

The Congregation is an extremely important part of the Vatican, particularly at a time when abuse survivors and the community are weighing up every word from every Church leader, be they a parish priest or the Pope, to see if they really ‘do get it’.

When the leader of this Congregation seems to have made a judgment that the responsibility for decades of child sexual abuse should rest solely with the perpetrators then we have a big problem.

What has now become clear, and what seems to be broadly accepted by many, if not most people both in and outside the Church, is that a cultural failing within the Church allowed for the cover up of crimes and monsters dressed as priests to be moved from one parish to another, from one state to another and sometimes from one country to another.

In many cases when offending priests were moved, someone in the church hierarchy knew they were abusing kids and yet they allowed the move to take place, with the result that the offending priest continued to prey on and hurt children.

The senior leaders who made these decisions were not child abusers, but let’s be clear, their decisions led directly to children continuing to be abused in our Church.

There are no ifs or buts – this has been demonstratively proven.  This is a tragedy that the entire Church needs to acknowledge and address.

This isn’t about a few bad apples, it is about collusion and cover up, it’s about reputation before transparency, it’s about abandoning the very bedrock of Christ’s teaching to protect an institution.

If we allow the old defensive thinking that minimises and blame-shifts to reassert itself then the Church and the survivors of clerical sexual abuse will continue to be mired in this crisis for decades to come.


What has driven the response to the evidence from Rome?
Francis Sullivan, 4 March 2016

This week has been a dreadful time for the Catholic Church in Australia.

The Royal Commission finished hearing evidence into the Melbourne Archdiocese and all but finished with the Ballarat Dioceses including the Christian Brothers. The hearings culminated with a marathon four-day evidence session from Cardinal Pell via videolink from Rome. By any measure it was a gruelling experience for all.

The interest, commentary and temperature around this past four days has never been greater – both here and internationally.

So what has driven this?

Firstly, Ballarat and the parts of Melbourne that were investigated by the Commission are at the very epicentre of child sexual abuse within the Church in Australia. More crimes and cover-ups are associated with these two places over more years than anywhere else in Australia.

Secondly, the administrations of Archbishop Little in Melbourne and Bishop Mulkearns in Ballart clearly failed in dealing with two of the Church’s most high profile and appalling offenders – Peter Searson in Doveton and Gerald Ridsdale in Ballarat. This opened the door to perhaps hundreds of children being abused and, in many cases, damaged for life.

Thirdly, the high profile and extremely effective survivors group which has taken its campaign for justice to the gates of the Vatican. They have attended the hearings in Rome respectfully and did not impact on the Cardinal’s evidence. But at the same time they have used the world’s media to send a very clear message – justice is still a long way off and much more needs to be done.

Lastly, the marathon appearance of Cardinal Pell, the third most senior cleric in the Vatican and variously a priest and auxiliary bishop during the twenty or so years some of Australia’s worst child sex abusers were offending in regions where he worked and lived.

Together these factors have come together to create a perfect storm.

Sitting in the hearing room hearing for both last week’s evidence and the evidence from Cardinal Pell has been difficult, difficult for survivors, difficult for Catholics and I assume difficult for the lawyers and the Commission itself.

I have come out of the hearing angry at the appalling behaviour of too many senior church leaders, saddened to hear again about the abuse suffered by so many little children at the hands of those dressed as priests and brothers.

What becomes clearer and clearer every time we sit through a hearing and every time we hear the horrendous stories of abuse is the need for an independent redress scheme, the need for uniform child protection laws across the country, new approaches to the way in which survivors can access the courts and more rigorous child protection standards for all institutions including the Catholic Church.

There is little we can do about the abuse of the past other than ensure everything has been revealed and the survivors are treated fairly with respect and dignity.

What we can and must do is continue to work as hard as possible to ensure every child in a Catholic school, parish, home, welfare organisation, hospital or other facility is safe. And that goes beyond the very minimum child protection standards but must include that they are loved, are cared for and are valued.


Ballarat hearing, Cardinal Pell evidence
Francis Sullivan, 23 February 2016

It’s been quite a week.

Victoria’s Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird put himself forward as a defendant in historical sex abuse cases. Bishop Bird, along with a number of other senior Church leaders including Archbishop Fisher in Sydney and Archbishop Coleridge in Brisbane, have now publically endorsed the new policy which requires a Church organisation facing a civil claim of child sexual abuse to help identify an entity to sue.

This is solid support for the measure signed off by Church leaders last year. While the leaders are not required by law to provide the entity to sue, it takes strong moral leaders to show the way. Victims groups have welcomed the decision as a shining light.

And the Royal Commission is in Ballarat this week to hear the third part of Case Study 28. This time it’s looking at allegations of child sex abuse by clergy and religious focusing on the Christian Brothers. Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who is terminally ill will also give evidence via video.

Next week, Cardinal George Pell will provide evidence for Case Studies 28 and 35, via video from Rome, on his doctor’s advice.

Not surprisingly, the Cardinal’s inability to attend in person has unleashed a visceral response from many in the community.

Survivors and their supporters are understandably angry that they will not get their day in court with the Cardinal.

Many have described the anguish they felt having to give evidence in front of the Commissioners and before a public gallery. They expected the Cardinal to answer questions under similar circumstances.

For many, the Cardinal’s evidence is very significant, not just because of his role in the Diocese of Ballarat and the Archdiocese of Melbourne, but in his current capacity as the most senior Catholic in Australia and the third ranking Vatican official in the world.

A crowd funding effort has raised over $200,000 to enable 15 or more survivors to travel to Rome to attend the Cardinal’s evidence in person. This is a great measure of solidarity from the Australian community.

And proceeds from comedian, Tim Minchin’s controversial song, which called on the Cardinal to return home to give evidence, also contributed to that fund.

The airwaves have been alive with all of this. There have been all sorts of requests and suggestions, accusations and generalisations. It’s depressing. The Church has clearly lost any lingering credibility with many people in the community.

But what matters at the end of the day is that we get the evidence from the Cardinal, and we get it in an effective way, in a dignified way that befits a royal commission so that the Commissioners can draw this case study to a close. The Cardinal must be afforded procedural fairness, like anybody else.

Some people, particularly some of the victims, gave their evidence way back in the middle of last year.  The lack of closure of this hearing is just adding to the distress.

The Royal Commission is doing a professional job under extraordinary, tense and difficult circumstances. In the face of this heightened atmosphere, and massive public interest, the Royal Commission has the where-with-all to go about its work in a dispassionate and objective way.

And more broadly this week, people are still talking about the film Spotlight. It’s absolutely extraordinary.

It tells you that the way the Catholic Church dealt with child sex abuse is germane to its culture. It’s a culture where the residue of a medieval structures still exists, where power and control determine who says what, and when. Who gets the information and how individuals can be intimidated in the system not to speak up. It’s that culture that in its claustrophobic nature shuts things down and becomes extraordinarily protective of the institution. That’s what Spotlight showed.

And so, the work of the Council continues. We’ve got a long way to go yet.


Rebuilding trust will be a long, hard road
Francis Sullivan - 17 February 2016

The debate around the appearance of Cardinal Pell by video link at the Royal Commission in a week or so continues to rage and I see that a number of survivors from Melbourne and Ballarat are thinking about making the trip to Rome to hear the Cardinal’s evidence.

While I have said previously it would have been preferable for the Cardinal to give his evidence in person to the Commission, as he did during the John Ellis hearing in March 2014, the fact that his health won’t allow this should not be seen in any way as the Church thumbing its nose at the Commission or at survivors.

As far as the Catholic Church in Australia is concerned, we have been cooperating as best we possibly can, at many, many levels, with the Commission. Nothing we have that the Commission has asked for has been withheld and no one the Commission has wanted to speak to has not been available.

We are the single largest institution the Commission has dealt with. We have been the subject of more public hearings into different parts of the Church than any other organisation or institution and well over a third of the private sessions so far have related to the Catholic Church.

And while many will rightfully say this is nothing more than a factor of the breadth of abuse within the Church over many years it does require an enormous amount of work to ensure the Commission has all it wants to be confident everything is on the table.

Since the Commission’s public hearings started in 2013 we have provided hundreds of thousands of documents, statements and other material. And while not wanting to put words into the Commission’s mouth I don’t think it would have any substantial complaint with the way in which we have engaged with it over the past three or so years.

On top of this we are also working with the Commission on a major project that will see an unprecedented amount of data relating to child sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests and religious collected and provided to the Commission. This will become publically available when completed. I don’t think any other institution is doing anything similar.

We have also done a mountain of public policy work around issues relating to child safety which the Commission has identified through its ‘Issues Papers’ process.

I think it is safe to say we are among just a hand full of organisations that have made submissions to all ten papers ranging across topics such as the risk of child sexual abuse in schools, police and prosecution responses to abuse survivors, crime compensation schemes, Out-of-Home Care, redress schemes and civil litigation.

Despite this, and much more, there is a palpable, broad-based doubt that we are not fully on-board with the Commission. I think there is little doubt this can be sheeted home to one fundamentally, dominant factor: the loss of trust in the Catholic Church which is now seared into the frontal lobes of most people’s minds.

I’m confident it will take more than a Royal Commission for trust in the Church to be broadly rebuilt, despite the continuing strong commitment across the community to Catholic health, welfare and education services.

It will probably take another generation because when you have an institution like the Church breaking its most fundamental of trusts – the care of the children and the vulnerable – people just say the hypocrisy is too hard to swallow.


Ballarat Directions Hearing, National Redress……
Francis Sullivan - 11 February 2016

The big news this week has been the decision by Royal Commission Chair Justice McClellan, to hear Cardinal Pell's evidence by video from Rome. He also agreed to Bishop Mulkearns' request to give evidence, albeit in constrained circumstances.

In both cases it is vital that the evidence from both bishops be made available as soon as is practicable.

The Ballarat and Melbourne case studies have now dragged on since the middle of last year. Victims have given testimony and so too have many Church officials and priests. Already there has been a lot aired in the media including very intense speculation over serious allegations.

Clearly we are still left with many questions and not enough answers.

Cardinal Pell has said consistently on the record that he wants to assist the Royal Commission and he has already given evidence in two previous hearings. His personal circumstances have complicated this hearing but they will not inhibit the main game, that is giving evidence and answering all that the Royal Commission is seeking to ask.

Bishop Mulkearns, although gravely ill, likewise wants to co-operate with the Commission. Let's hope that he can give useful information on the range of issues that others have placed before the Commission for consideration.

Over the next few weeks the effectiveness of Justice McClellan's decision will play out.

Meanwhile the confusion over the Federal Government's redress announcement is beginning to bite. Even though the general thrust of the announcement aligned with the second-best option from the Royal Commission on the provision of national redress, it is still very unclear to what degree the Commonwealth Government will support nationally consistent state-based schemes.

What about the children who were abused in Commonwealth services or in organisations doing the work of the Commonwealth? Where will their redress come from? What attitude will the Commonwealth government take to the social security payments of people who receive a redress payment from a state scheme? Will the Commonwealth contribute to a pool of funds to provide redress to those persons who were abused in organisations that no longer exist?

These are but some of the questions that are bound to be on the table when the inter government discussions finally get underway. So far the Commonwealth remains silent.

Little wonder that some state officials are expressing lukewarm enthusiasm for the talks. Will they just go through the motions assuming that the Commonwealth is half-hearted and has no intention of becoming financially involved?

These are challenging days. Victims and survivors are vulnerable. Their voice is easily drowned out when governments flex muscle. Faith-based institutions, at the very least, need to get alongside the victims and help advocate for a fair, consistent system of redress that will deliver just reparation to victims, regardless of where or when they were abused.


Commonwealth redress response - slow train coming
Francis Sullivan - 4 February 2016

In its long awaited response to the Royal Commission’s redress recommendations the Federal Government last Friday released a statement saying it will work with the states and territories to set up a national framework to offer compensation to victims of institutional child sexual abuse.

The statement, thin on detail and long on rhetoric, seems to be saying that the Commonwealth won’t be setting up a scheme but rather looking to the states to establish individual schemes run out of each state and territory but under a set of national principles.

While this is the second best option proposed by the Commission, it is a far cry from what survivors, most of the major institutions and some of the bigger states have called for.

While it is good to see the Commonwealth respond it's been a very slow train coming.

I think the best that can be said about the announcement is that the Commonwealth has now placed redress on the agenda of all governments, there is now a process and hopefully things will start to move a bit quicker.

The big problem however with what the Commonwealth seems to be proposing is that by running individual schemes in different states and territories survivors from different places around the country will inevitably, be treated differently.

The facts are that regardless of how hard the Commonwealth works to ensure that all states operate their redress schemes in the same way it is an absolute certainly that over not a very long time they will start to differ from each other.

And when this happens we will be back to Day One where abuse survivors seeking compensation are being treated differently depending on where they were abused and what state they live in.

Also, and I don’t mean to be unkind to treasury officials and bureaucrats, but you can bet London to a brick that they will be looking to build schemes that cost their governments the least possible amount. That’s their job. And that means survivors will miss out.

It cannot be left to public servants to decide how, as a nation, we provide redress to victims of child sexual abuse.

We can’t have state and territory governments going down the path of putting their interests before the needs of victims, like the Catholic Church and so many other institutions have.

The people who have been abused as kids are now in the 50s, 60s and 70s and for decades have had no voice. That has changed and now, through the Royal Commission they are being heard.

The plight of survivors needs to be heard by the community, by institutions and by Government and the ramifications of what happened to them needs to be fully understood.

I am concerned that we might find ourselves in the situation where state governments and COAG officials look at the redress proposals in a narrow, self-serving, institutionally defensive way. Or worse, as a tool to be traded on other pressing issues involving the states and the Federal Government, especially in the lead up to a Federal election.

This must not be allowed to happen.

What matters here is the human story not a public policy that is going to be restricted by technocrats who, if it all becomes too hard, can file it away till later.

The Commonwealth has tentatively come to the table and given some sort of direction. What we need now is for leaders to take up the challenge and make sure survivors of CSA get access to consistent, transparent, fair redress regardless of where or when they were subject to the criminal acts of the people they should have been able to trust.

We are heading into the fourth year of the Royal Commission’s ground breaking work. For the Catholic Church, this will be a year of analysis and action. A lot of work has already been done in individual dioceses and religious orders, but there’s a lot to do yet.


Ballarat hearing finishes
Francis Sullivan - 17 December 2015

Sometimes words just are not enough!

At the end of another confronting and shameful public hearing for the Catholic Church the heavy sense of failure pervades our community. It is becoming an all-too-predictable scenario, in that in every case study ineptitude, maladministration, cover ups and corrupt practices have been revealed.

This miserable history cannot be denied, nor can it be rationalised away. The very fact that a faith-based institution would perpetuate such evil is incomprehensible. But it has – and now the time for reckoning has well and truly arrived.

As witness after witness fronts the Royal Commission the pretence falls away. At times the Commission's patience is clearly tested but at least the stark realities are made plain for all to see.

Of course the Ballarat component of these past three and a bit weeks of hearings is only partially completed. It will reconvene again in the New Year in Ballarat. Cardinal Pell will also be required to give his evidence, health permitting. This will be a crucial component and has already been eagerly awaited.

Already this hearing has heard from Bishop Peter Connors about the way bishops and officials made decisions over the movement of priests and the management of abusers. His evidence came on top of Archbishop Denis Hart's frank description of diocesan administrative and canonical processes. Both appearances added a great deal to the understandings of Church decision making in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bishop Brian Finnigan's evidence was focused primarily on his time as secretary and vicar general in Ballarat during the years when paedophile priests Gerald Ridsdale and Paul David Ryan ran rampant across the Diocese. Bishop Finnigan faced intense questioning and at one point was challenged about his credibility and compassion.

I have said many times it is incumbent on all church leaders appearing before the Commission to be open, transparent and honest. To explain what they knew and what they did, as best they can.

While Bishop Finnigan told the Commission this is what he tried to do, it was obvious that it was not well received.

With this coming on top of the decision by Cardinal Pell not to attend the hearing on the advice of his doctors, we finished up with an almost palpable anger in the hearing room which I have never felt so strongly before.

Many have said that this Royal Commission is vitally important for the future of the Catholic Church in Australia. Quite clearly the Church has not been able to be as honest with itself as it has had to be in these hearings. Now the challenge is to explain why this tragic scandal occurred and how it can be prevented from ever happening again.


National redress disappointment, Ballarat hearing resumes
Francis Sullivan - 9 December 2015

This week AAP reports thousands of child sex abuse survivors expecting the Turnbull government to commit to a national redress scheme before Christmas face bitter disappointment.

According to the AAP report hopes the government would, in line with the final recommendation of the child abuse royal commission, announce by year's end its backing of a $4.3 billion scheme are fading, principally because some states are reluctant to come on board.

NSW and Victoria support a national scheme. South Australia doesn’t. Other states are yet to commit. But the states have written to the Prime Minister asking him to clarify the Federal Government’s position.

The Church supports a national scheme that will provide justice for victims. It will be transparent, independent of the Church and other institutions and relatively generous, given the burden of proof will be limited and victims who suffered at the hands of perpetrators who have died will still get access to compensation.

As the work of the Royal Commission continues, it’s clear that while a diabolical number of perpetrators have come from the Catholic Church, other institutions have not escaped the scourge of the abuse of children in their care.

Every week I get calls from survivors of abuse who want to know what is happening - what is coming out of the Royal Commission for victims?

I say to them that the Church backs a national redress scheme, that we have issued guidelines to Church Authorities to ensure they provide an entity that can be sued, backed by insurance and/or assets and that the Council will hopefully be able to make an announcement in the new year regarding an independent body that will set, monitor and report on standards that affect children and vulnerable people in the Church.

I can hear the sighs down the phone line.

The Ballarat hearing resumed in Melbourne this week.

Counsel Assisting the Commission, Gail Furness, told the Commission the second part of the hearing would hear evidence from nine current and former priests in the Ballarat Diocese who were advisors to Bishop Mulkearns. The hearing is focusing on the knowledge of these priests and the response of the diocese in relation to four offending priests, John Day, Gerald Ridsdale, Paul David Ryan and another unnamed priest.

It’s a sorry litany of one account after another of heads in the sand, of the reputation of the church taking precedence over powerless children whose lives have been so tragically affected by systemic abuse. And the criminal activity did not just sit with the Church. We heard allegations from former Victorian police about elaborate efforts to protect the church.

The hearing provides more evidence of why we have to move urgently on reform to provide a safer future for children and vulnerable people in all Australian institutions and to give some hope to people who have been so damaged by the incompetence and criminal activity that has typified past responses.


Melbourne Hearing
Francis Sullivan - 3 December 2015

We are right in the middle of the latest public hearing of the child sex abuse Royal Commission. The examination of paedophile priests in the Melbourne Archdiocese has almost finished and next week abuse in the Ballarat Diocese will come under the microscope.

Two weeks into the hearings and there is a strange sense that the constant stream of abuse stories and maladministration by Church officials is becoming "old news"! Even seasoned journalists, like David Marr, have written of the sense of public fatigue that now surrounds the hearings.

Public coverage has changed with stories about the hearings now appearing well towards the back of the news sections in the papers, little or no coverage on the nightly TV news bulletins and the occasional piece on 7.30 or Lateline. It seems the ABC radio news and current affairs programs along with The Australian consistently file stories outside the online platforms.

Maybe this fatigue is understandable but clearly the disregard for the history of abuse is not.

Sitting in the hearings and listening to victims tell their stories is harrowing, not only for the victims but for those who are here to bear witness to those tragic histories. They are brave people.

Our community owes them so much because through the telling of these stories the scope and depth of abuse, cover ups and mishandling by officials has come to the fore. No longer a 'Catholic issue' only, institutional sex abuse has been a contagion.

So too has been the begrudging acceptance of incompetency, corruption and aggressive defensiveness on the part of the institutions.

In this hearing a number of victims have made statements that spoke volumes about the essence of this scandal. One woman spoke of her abuse at the hands of Fr Peter Searson, a man who has been described variously during this hearing as psychotic, mad and evil.

She struggled to describe the horror of her experience. In doing so she suffered chronically from years of self-doubt, depression and broken relationships. She also spoke of how she has been able to get on her feet, restore her life and enter into a happy marriage and have children.  At the end of her statement she proudly stated her name, Julie Stewart.  A strong person, proud of where she has arrived in life despite the might of resistance she had experienced in her determination to get justice.

Her story was replicated in many ways by another man who appeared before the Commission under a pseudonym. He too described being abused on numerous occasions by ‘Bill’ Baker, initially as a pre-pubescent altar boy. Even after nearly 40 years this man was deeply upset and clearly found speaking about the abuse extremely difficult. He is a courageous and determined person. Sadly he commenced his statement by saying that he had chosen to be known by a pseudonym because "I was too ashamed to use my name"! He did himself proud that day!

The devastating irony of these two stories struck me strongly. Both people have struggled so profoundly with issues of identity, self-belief and a sense of worth. They are victims of a Church that preaches the intrinsic dignity of every person. Yet they have had to get back a sense of their own dignity and personal value by finding nurture and support away from the Church.

During one of the hearing days this week, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Heart was questioned extensively about how his predecessors, the Archbishop of the time, his vicar-generals, other bishops and advisors, responded to allegations by Julie Stewart and others against seven priests who, between them had abused possibly hundreds of children in Melbourne’s outer western suburbs.

Archbishop Hart described the ‘ad hoc’ approach taken to complaints at the time as ‘wholly inadequate’ and that none of the cases before the Commission ‘were properly investigated’. This, he agreed was ‘a terrible failure’.

He accepted that the response of church leaders had often been inadequate and had often left children in danger. He also accepted that church leaders had failed to act on credible information about criminal abuse by priests.

And so it has come to this. A Church dragged into the public forum by the bravery and determination of vulnerable people. A Church admitting failures and moral shortcomings under compulsion, at times too slowly, and often without enough remorse or sense of responsibility.

All this in the name of the Church!


Melbourne Hearing, Church's legal Guidelines
Francis Sullivan - 27 November 2015

We are now at the end of the first week of the Commission’s hearing into the way in which the Archdiocese of Melbourne dealt with years of abuse that took place in the Doveton Parish in outer suburban Melbourne.

This week has focused for the most part on the appalling behaviour of a Parish Priest call Peter Searson who seems to have been some sort of psychotic monster who used the primary schools he had control of in the 1980s as a personal fiefdom.

This week we heard about his perverted activities in the confessional with little children, his brandishing of a hand gun in front of little kids, his killing of a cat, showing children a dead body in a coffin and much more.

We also heard from teachers and a local principal at Doveton’s Holy Family Primary School about the frustration and struggle they endured as they tried to get the Catholic Education Office and Archbishop Frank Little to do something about Searson.

What we heard during the week was the story of a complete failure in administration, a refusal of church leaders to face up to the bleeding obvious and, yet again, the tragic and lifelong damage child sexual abuse has on innocent people.

This week we also released our guidelines on how church authorities being sued for child sexual abuse claims should behave during the legal process.

The guidelines also cover issues such as making records available to the claimants, keeping costs down and paying legitimate claims without litigation. They also call on bishops and congregation leaders to be mindful of the traumatic experience for claimants during litigation.

Significantly the guidelines include a requirement for Church dioceses or religious orders to assist a claimant to identify the correct defendant to respond to legal proceedings.

When we put these guidelines together we thought that making this requirement would be enough to assure survivors and their lawyers that what is known as the ‘Ellis defence’ wouldn’t be called into play.

It hasn’t been and over the past week we have heard from a few prominent lawyers saying the guidelines don’t go far enough, and they might be right.

After having talked with one of these lawyers at the Melbourne hearing earlier this week I think we might have to consider what we released earlier this week as a ‘working draft’ and revisit, particularly, what we have said about identifying a proper defendant in child sex abuse claims.


Paris attacks and Melbourne hearing
Francis Sullivan - 20 November 2015

These are very somber and frightening days.

The Paris attacks have sent shock and threat across the Western world. Not that terrorism is new or unfortunately unfamiliar to the lives of so many across the globe, it is the fact that it now disturbs the centre of Western comfort and security that is so unsettling.

A fear of loss of safety and control and a sense of the future now permeates our communities. A fear that brews more fear, revenge and suspicion, where violence begets violence.

This cycle of despair and destruction plays out on the big stage and the small.

Next week the Royal Commission will start its 35th public hearing and the 12th into a Catholic institution.

The hearing will be broken into two parts – the first couple of weeks looking at abuse that took place in and around Doveton’s Holy Family Parish and Primary School in the 1970s and the way in which the then Archbishop, Frank Little responded to claims of abuse by another six priests in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in the 70s and 80s.

The second part of the hearing is a continuation of the Ballarat hearing which started in May this year in Ballarat. Cardinal Pell is expected to give evidence about his involvement in both case studies first as a priest in Ballarat and then as an Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Little in Melbourne.

It’s expected Cardinal Pell will appear in the final week of the hearing which is scheduled to finish on Fri 18 December.

While I am loath to make a comparison between the atrocities in Paris and the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church the ramifications for victims and their families can be similar.

Victims of terrorist attacks and other gratuitous acts of violence often replay the events in their minds as they try to come to terms with the senseless horror visited on their lives.

So too survivors of clerical child sexual abuse express similar turmoil. Yet this terror is often not understood in the same vein as we recognise the injustice of the random evil of terrorist attacks.

Victims of clerical abuse were innocent prey to random evil.

The fact that it has taken our Church so long to fully appreciate the depth and scope of this is in itself an abuse for all the Church stands for and preaches.

So again it becomes incumbent on all the Church witnesses appearing before this next Royal Commission hearing to be fully cooperative, to speak the truth without defensiveness or anger.

To as best they can explain their involvement in the Commission’s investigation with openness and transparency so all can see that the Church continues to come before the Royal Commission prepared to reveal all, come what may.


Learning As We Go: The Pope Models the Change the Church Needs
Francis Sullivan - 12 November 2015

Ever since the conclusion of the recent Synod in Rome, I have been thinking about the signals of change that Pope Francis is sending. He does it in words and by his disposition.

Observers at the Synod frequently commented on the informal and casual style of the Pope. He mixed easily and readily with participants. He didn't stand on ceremony and was eager for a chat - more a "first among equals" than some sovereign ruler.

This in itself is a marked difference from previous popes. He personifies what he extols: openness, inclusion and "learning as we go."

It's not hard to see how such a disposition pays dividends in a world in which the search for truth and meaning can seem so clouded and even crowded out with competing voices, philosophies and ideologies. The fact that Francis doesn't purport to "have it all sorted" only deepens his appeal to the rest of us who struggle at times to find certainty and a sure path in life.

Pope Francis has a mantra. He speaks often of the mercy of God, not divine judgement. He wants to remind us of the importance of the human heart, the innate urge to feel for others, understand their plight and seek to help. He wants us to see this as the first and most important of the human responses. This is a disposition that builds bridges and heals wounds; a perspective that seeks to restore relationships, nourish people and promote harmony, not division.

Only this week he spoke of a Church unafraid to question itself, live with doubts and the discomfort of interrogating its assumptions; a place of dialogue, with a willingness to embrace the new and the awkward. A church that seeks to reform through becoming unsettled, unsure but close to people, their circumstances, sense of isolation and travail. A church more like a meeting square than a brick bastion.

This reminds me of what Simone Weil meant by paying attention. She said that in order to get a sense of what is true we need to suspend our own agenda and concerns and shift the focus of our attention on to that we encounter. In so doing, the truth of that encounter, that dynamic within the dialogue, will be revealed.

This is similar to the maxim that listening is the first step towards wisdom. To listen well is to be aware of the voices in ourselves that try to understand another person long before we have actually heard them. Letting go of preconceived perspectives, attitudes and even understandings is the challenge for a pilgrim church if dedication to truth is to be its hallmark.

The irony is that, in becoming disturbed or, as the Pope puts it, "uncomfortable" - maybe even knocked off course - we are strangely on a pathway more to do with God than any human construct of the Divine.

At one level, we should not be surprised to hear a pope speak and act like this. The fact that we are surprised speaks volumes for the institutional persona the Church has cultivated in many quarters these days.

Critics see the Church as being harsh on human nature, uncompromising with its take on the truth and immovable in its attitudes. In its response to child sex abuse, the Church too regularly failed the test of moral leadership, hid behind institutional protectionism and sought to excuse itself as just another institution with some "bad eggs" in the basket.

It spent too long exhausting institutional resources to justify, contextualise and even rationalise away the problem, rather than in humbly admitting its failures as far up the line as they went. The upshot has been in collapse of trust and the consolidation of the public image of a Church that not only speaks of arrogance and indifference, but that also fails to "feel with" those abused and disenchanted.

Too often Church officials wanted understanding before they expressed mercy. We didn't get the problem before it became a tsunami. We didn't get what victims and their families were saying and the reach of the tentacles of abuse within the Church. We didn't get the imperative to cry out in shame and seek atonement. And when we did, it looked too late.

God have mercy!


NSW and Vic Governments back national redress while SA digs in deeper against the scheme; and the cost of the crisis to the US Catholic Church
Francis Sullivan - 6 November 2015

The South Australian Government continues to stand out from all states in its opposition to a national redress scheme for the survivors of child sexual abuse, despite the NSW and Victorian Governments now on the record supporting the plan.

This week ABC Online reports that South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill thinks it is “…a bit rich to be asked to fund a second scheme once we've funded the first scheme.”

The South Australian redress scheme has paid out just under $1.2 million to 85 survivors abused in state-run facilities – an average of just $14,100 per payment.

The huge problem with this is that the Royal Commission has estimated that there are in the order of 1,150 survivors of South Australian state-based abuse who are, under the Commission’s proposal, entitled to some $67 million over ten years.

Premier Weatherill said he would not be committing any state funding to a national scheme but would support a fully funded one.

On the basis of this it is clear Premier Weatherill supports the idea of survivors abused in South Australian State Government care receiving more redress but he wants the rest of the country to pay for it, not his government.

Premier Weatherill stands alone as the leader of a major institution – the South Australian Government – demanding that the rest of the country should be paying for abuse perpetrated in his State by South Australian state-based institutions.

If any other leader from any other institution be it a church, a school, a swimming association or a yoga centre were to take the same position they would be roundly, and rightly, condemned.

How it is that Premier Weatherill thinks this is a reasonable position, I’m sure is beyond the thinking of most people.

This week the National Catholic Reporter in the US has reported on the publication of research by Jack Ruhl and Diane Ruhl, which has put a $3.99 billion cost so far of the child sexual abuse crisis in the US Catholic Church.  The researchers call their numbers "solid" but also "a very conservative estimate."

In Australia the Royal Commission data suggests that over the coming ten years the Catholic Church is liable for somewhere between $800 million and $1 billion in additional redress payments. This is on top of some $200 million that’s already been paid out.

In an editorial on the research the National Catholic Reporter says:

The church has burned through $3.99 billion since this crisis began. That money will never be replaced. The institutional church has made great strides in recent years in stemming the incidents of sexual abuse by its clergy. The next step is to rebuild the trust of its people. A major step in that regard is working toward complete financial transparency at the diocesan level.

This is just as applicable here as it is in the US.


Labor backs Commission’s redress while SA government continues to back away
Francis Sullivan - 29 October 2015

While it was great news this week when the ALP federally came out and fully backed in the redress recommendations of the Royal Commission it is the Government that we are all waiting to hear from.

The silence from the Commonwealth is now starting to become an embarrassment.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations have been with Senator Brandis since at least September 14 and all we hear when asked by the media is ‘the Government is considering the Royal Commission's recommendations’ and ‘would consult with state and territory colleagues before committing to a response’.

Fair enough – but how long does it take. And why can’t the community, which has fully backed the Commission, now at least know how this consultation will take place.

It’s not too much to ask that the Commonwealth gives some indication that it is actually moving, that it is doing the work to bring together the states so that the discussions can be had and the decisions made.

And that said, it is well past time the Government started talking to the key non-government institutions which will need to part of the scheme, the churches, the private schools, sports organisations and others

And there has been no consultation from the Government – no one has come to us and said ‘what do you think?’ or ‘how can this all work?’ or ‘where do you see the problems?’.

Any discussions we have had with the Government have been at our initiative, but unfortunately not with the people who actually make these important decisions.

For the scheme to work, everyone needs to be on-board – Governments from around Australia and all institutions that deal with children.

Maybe the Commonwealth is silent while it negotiates with the South Australian Government to at least be open to the idea of the redress proposal.

The South Australian Government has come out again this week pouring cold water over the Commission’s redress plans saying it will not back Labor’s support for a national compensation scheme unless it is "fully-funded".

I think you can read this as saying the South Australian Government is not prepared to pay a cent more than what it is obliged to pay under the ex-gratia scheme it set up in 2009 – which hasn’t been much.

Up to December last year some 85 survivors of child sexual abuse in South Australian state care had received a little under $1.2 million with an average payment of $14,400 through its redress scheme.

This is despite the Commission making it clear in its costing document in July that the South Australian Government is potentially exposed, at the very least, to some $67 million in payments to 1,150 adult survivors of child sexual abuse within state care.

On these figures it appears the South Australian Government has paid, at best, 1.8 percent so far of what the Commission estimates child sexual abuse survivors in state care should receive.

And even worse, only 7.4 percent of child sexual abuse survivors seemed to have received any redress through that government’s redress scheme.

If South Australia continues to snub the Commission’s redress proposal and insists on going its own way there will be many hundreds of child sexual abuse survivors in that state who will miss out or receive next to nothing for the abuse they endured in state homes and other South Australian government institutions.

Now that’s a crime.


New CSA evidence laws in NSW, Blackfriars Speech and Blue Knot Day
Francis Sullivan - 22 October 2015

This week the NSW Government introduced new laws to make it easier for child victims of child sexual abuse to give evidence in court.

Under the new laws child sexual abuse victims will be able to pre-record all of their evidence.

Importantly, children giving evidence will also be supported through the court process by a qualified expert who will help them and give advice on how they should be questioned.

This is a great initiative that will make an already very difficult process for young children just a little bit easier.

Hopefully it will mean more perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The new approach will be trialled for three years; hopefully it will be a success and could then be adopted by other jurisdictions.

This week I gave a speech at the ACU in Canberra where I spoke about many different issues confronting the Church as we come to terms with our history of child sex abuse.

I spoke about the church’s culture, in particular clericalism and the misuse of power, which from nearly everyone I talk to from current archbishops to abuse survivors say is the weeping sore in the Catholic Church.

And from what I’ve seen and heard it is at the core of the crisis, we cannot hide from this. It needs to be confronted, as I think it is, and it needs to be acknowledged. The Pope is talking about it and I think we would do well to talk about it more as well.

I have had a bit of push back since giving the speech with people concerned I don’t give enough credit to new child protection initiatives in the Church.

I have also been criticised for seemingly suggesting the negative way in which church officials treated abuse survivors in the past is the way in which they are treated now.

I don’t agree with these comments but I’m always pleased to hear from anyone who has a view on what and how I’m talking about the Royal Commission. I always respond and I always take these views into account.

This coming Monday is Blue Knot Day, the day in which survivors of child sexual abuse are acknowledged and the community is asked to support initiatives that help them recover.

This year's Blue Knot Day theme is "supportive communities help survivors recover".

The day is organised by ASCA which this year is asking local communities to unite in support of the adult survivors living among them.


Sacred Heart visit, The Salvation Army, Redress
Francis Sullivan - 15 October 2015

Sacred Heart visit, The Salvation Army, Redress

On Monday night I gave a talk to around 40 people gathered at Sacred Heart College in Oakleigh in Melbourne.

Oakleigh carries the scars of infamous paedophile Kevin O’Donnell who was parish priest there for almost 20 years until his retirement in 1992.

This is the first parish visit I have made for a couple of months and I am still inspired by the depth of concern and interest that ordinary Catholics have in the Royal Commission.

People also want to know how, as a church, we are trying to find a way to deliver justice and compassion for abuse survivors. And they also want to know what they can do to help survivors.

The abuse crisis has left a deep wound in the Catholic Church that is still a long way from healed.

While we all hope for healing, for survivors, their families and their supporters, it is a long and slow process. Just as it is for the Church itself as we all continue to come to terms with our history.

Many survivors live a secret life with horror and dread, misery and terror. The abuse they endured shapes the way they live their adult life. For some it’s a life of constant dysfunction.

We also need to face up to the ‘secret life’ within our Church. We need to acknowledge and work to understand the culture of denial and of the dangers of contextualising, minimising and rationalising historical abuse.

Every day we need to push for greater openness and transparency so the wounds of both survivors and the Church can heal.

There continues to be confusion on how the Commonwealth and the state governments will respond to the Commission’s recommendations on redress for abuse survivors.

The silence from the Feds is making it difficult for survivors who this week saw the Salvation Army seemingly do an ‘about face’ on how they will approach ‘topping up’ payments already made to survivors.

On Monday the Salvation Army territorial commander, Floyd Tidd, told the Royal Commission public hearing in Adelaide that even if a victim’s compensation was inappropriate, there would be no top up until the federal government responded to the commission’s redress proposals.

The next day he said if any claims were assessed to unfair they would be reopened and eligible for top-up payments without waiting for any national or state-based redress scheme.

I mention this confusion only to emphasis the pressing need for the Commonwealth to start addressing the Commission’s redress proposals.

I should add here that settlements are being reviewed by some dioceses and orders in the Catholic Church now even though a redress scheme is a possibility.

If the Commonwealth and the States don’t start talking soon about their intensions for the Commission’s redress proposal more and more institutions will be left in the same situation as the Salvos – not really wanting to commit to a new process without first understanding where we are headed with a national redress scheme.


Pope Francis' US Visit, Redress...
Francis Sullivan - 7 October 2015

Pope Francis certainly made a hit in the United States last week. Expectations were sky high and there were commentators on every street corner with their take on what he said, didn’t say or should have said. So, since it‘s the season to ‘have a view of Francis’ it’s my turn.

The Pope’s address to the United States Congress was a cracker! I was particularly taken with his singling out of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Both ‘giants’ in the modern US Church, strong social advocates and people of the Gospel.

Individuals who bravely forged pathways to address contemporary social ills and abuses of human dignity. The parallels for the challenge facing the Church over its handling of sexual abuse were obvious to me.

When mentioning Dorothy Day he highlighted her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed. She lived a life of real solidarity with victims of an oppressive system. She identified with their plight and didn’t rest until it could be alleviated. She was the Gospel in action.

So too with Thomas Merton, the Cistercian monk. Very tellingly, the Pope said of Merton that he was “a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church”. This is very poignant. The Pope is clearly saying that nothing is set in concrete.

That real change is needed to address injustice, to enable inclusivity and the Church needs to be part of that change. Powerful words and images in a country that for too long has been riven with ‘cultural wars’ within the Church to the detriment of being an effective campaigner for social justice beyond its walls.

And this definitely applies to the sex abuse scandal.

US dioceses, one after another, have fallen foul of the courts as the depth and scope of the clerical abuse scandal is revealed. It is almost as if the US church has spent so long protecting itself that the necessary actions to promote justice are only recently gaining any real attention.  It seems pretty clear that the Pope sees a Church turned in on itself, more concerned with justification than embracing the message of outreach inherent in the Gospel, is an institution lost to the world.

The Church needs to provide horizons of hope for people, regardless of their circumstance or relationship to the Church. People need to feel the passion and warmth that belief engenders. The only certitude in our complex and diverse world is the value of compassion – its capacity to break down barriers, heal rifts and build communities. As always, actions will speak louder than words.

So too for us in Australia. As the Royal Commission begins yet another examination of a church-based institution we cannot succumb to the inevitable fatigue these hearings bring to the public consciousness.

For too long the depth and scope of institutional child abuse has been hidden from the community.

The fact that institution after institution has mishandled, covered up and unjustly dealt with victims is a damning indictment. So too is the fact that so many victims have received little or no redress from those institutions that the Royal Commission has had to accelerate its recommendations for a national redress system to be established.

Yet our governments are effectively lying low. They either want to shift responsibility amongst themselves or they posture over the efforts they previously made for some victims on some occasions.

The demands of justice seem straight forward. Victims of child sexual abuse within institutions, no matter where or when, deserve access to an independent, generous redress scheme. Only our governments can put that in place. And only the institutions responsible for the abuse should pay that compensation.


State and territory AGs want clarity from Federal Government on redress…
and so does everyone else
Francis Sullivan - 1 October 2015

This week we have seen some very significant moves by governments around Australia to get some idea of how the federal government plans respond to the Royal Commission’s proposal for a redress scheme for institutional child sexual abuse survivors.

Last Friday, state and territory attorneys-general sent a joint letter to federal Attorney-General, George Brandis, asking for clarification of the Commonwealth's position on the proposed redress scheme.

In the letter the attorneys-general wrote:

“The Royal Commission’s recommendations have identified a clear role for the Commonwealth, including that the Commonwealth announce its willingness to establish a national scheme by the end of 2015.

The Commonwealth’s response will have significant ramifications for the States and Territories. Accordingly, we request the earliest possible indication from the Commonwealth as to whether it intends to establish and fund a national redress scheme.”

I have also written to Prime Minister Turnbull requesting a meeting to discuss the redress proposal and to get an indication of where the Commonwealth government is headed.

As I said on the ABC’s PM program this week, the Commonwealth has not been clear with the community. It has now become obvious that child sexual abuse is a huge social issue. It is a tragedy that can be found in many different institutions, government and non-government, across many decades.

And as a major national social issue our policy and law makers have a role to play, along with institutions such as the Catholic Church, in addressing it. The new Prime Minister now has the opportunity to demonstrate that as political leaders, he and his state and territory colleagues will respond proactively and positively.

Survivors and stakeholders have been waiting close to ten months for a considered response from the Commonwealth to the Royal Commission’s preferred option for a redress scheme, which was outlined for the first time in its redress consultation paper released in January. The proposal was formally put as a recommendation to governments last month in the Royal Commission’s redress and civil litigation report.

All we have seen so far from the Commonwealth is a dismissive response to January’s consultation paper and silence in response to the final redress report.

The Commonwealth’s official response to the Royal Commission’s proposal in January washed its hands of playing any part in a redress scheme for child sexual abuse survivors.

The three-page submission, which looked like it had been knocked together at short notice and with little thought by the Attorney-General’s Department, was nothing short of a disgrace, an insult to abuse survivors who have waited decades to hear a considered position on redress from the Commonwealth.

What is pleasing is that the Commonwealth seems to have reconsidered its earlier position and is now, according to media reports, looking to discuss the redress proposal with state and territory governments at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting in November. This is great news.

The pressure on the federal government to play a role in establishing and operating a national redress scheme is mounting. We are hearing it from survivors and their supporters, from other governments, from institutions and from the general public.

The time has come for government action.

The Commonwealth government needs to lay out how it intends to respond to the Royal Commission’s recommendations and confirm this important social issue will be part of November’s COAG meeting.


Australia needs a national approach to child safety in schools
Francis Sullivan – 24 September 2015

This week we sent off to the Royal Commission our latest response to its policy development program.

This is the ninth Royal Commission issues paper we have responded to on behalf of the Catholic Church in Australia. This time the policy issue is focused on ensuring children are safe in schools.

Our submission has been developed with major contributions from Catholic school authorities across Australia.

One of the great tragedies revealed over the past three years of Royal Commission public hearings is the extent to which children have been sexual abused in schools – private and public.

According to the Commission around a third of people who have come forward to tell their story suffered sexual abuse at their school.

Sadly, the people they should have been able to trust the most, teachers, religious and clerics, took advantage of their positions of authority to abuse the most vulnerable.

In this submission we have recommended to the Commission a series of common-sense proposals that would make schools safer and make it simpler for school authorities to understand regulatory requirements across all states and territories.

We have called for national consistency in school registration, teacher training and mandatory reporting requirements.

We have asked the Commission to consider recommending national protocols to define more clearly how schools and police work together when investigating allegations of abuse within the school.

We have recommended a national Working With Children Check be implemented as soon as possible, national standards through the National Safe Schools Framework and consistent legislation for government and non-government schools.

One of the huge challenges the Commission and governments face when trying to put in place more effective protections for children is the very nature of our federation: a political system in which states and territories are for the most part independent of each other and the Federal Government.

One of the great achievements of this Royal Commission would be if it were able to convince governments to ‘harmonise’ the many different laws that relate to child protection.

This would provide a more secure safeguarding environment for our children across Australia, simplify enforcement processes and ensure that the responsibilities of all institutions, regardless of where they operate, were known and understood.

The TJHC submission can be found here:




Redress recommendations, Melbourne Response report and
new Jesuit child protection policy
Francis Sullivan September 16, 2015

Redress recommendations from the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission this week released its final report containing recommendations to Australian governments on how to set up a redress scheme for child sexual abuse survivors and also changes to the way courts and institutions should respond to civil claims.

It was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament on the day that, once again, we saw a change in the nation’s leadership.

The momentous events of this past Monday, to a large extent, masked the release of the report and saw media coverage of it pushed to middle pages of the nation’s newspapers with some online coverage.

This is a shame and an unfortunate bit of timing for the Commission and for survivors.

The report, which is broadly in line with the suggestions the Catholic Church made in TJHC submissions back in March this year and August last year, is comprehensive.

A significant point of difference was where funding should come from to cover redress for survivors who were abused in institutions that no longer exist and which have with no links to an existing institution.

We suggested a small increase on insurance premiums for all institutions that deal with children to cover this gap. The Commission has gone with this shortfall being picked up by Governments. The estimated cost to the ‘funder of last resort’ is in the order of $613 million – the final call on this will ultimately be made by our lawmakers across the country.

As I’ve said before the ball is now very much in the court of the Federal Government to determine whether it will support a national redress scheme and the civil litigation reforms proposed by the Royal Commission.

New Jesuit child protection policy

It was pleasing to see the release late last week of the new child and vulnerable people protection policy from the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus.

The policy reflects the ever increasing awareness Catholic institutions and the broader community have of the many different issues associated with child sexual abuse and protecting children and vulnerable people.

And while, for many years, Church leaders have been strengthening the policies that protect school children, children in homes and other welfare environments there is an ever increasing understanding of risks other vulnerable people face.

Clericalism is far from dead and it can still have a controlling effect over some people who come under the influence of priests and religious.

Isolated and single people with little or no support can become victims of inappropriate behaviour, as can the mentally ill or disabled, the aged and the ill.

The Jesuit policy is a comprehensive document designed to ensure that anyone in the care of or involved with the Province is provided a safe and supporting environment.

It is a major piece of work that will go a long way to lifting the shadow of abuse through transparency, genuine contrition and meaningful reconciliation

The new Jesuit policy follows the release earlier this year by the Christian Brothers Oceania of guiding principles for responding to civil claims of child sexual abuse.

The Principles are aimed at minimising the potential further trauma for survivors during civil claims and they draw on the commitment of the Christian Brothers to work with those who have suffered abuse with both care and compassion.

Royal Commission release finding from the Melbourne response hearing

This week also saw the release of the Royal Commission’s final report following its public hearing into the Melbourne Response last year.

The report has made a range of comments on some people involved with the administration of the Melbourne Response and advisors to the Archdiocese.

And the report is critical of the independence of the process, potential for conflict of interest and advice relating to police reporting.

From my perspective what is significant also is that this report was tabled in Parliament on the same day as the Commission’s report on redress.

It is clear from reading both these documents that the best way forward now for survivors is an independent national redress scheme that provides fair and just and consistent redress for people regardless of where, when or who abused them.


Police reporting and the need for new nationally consistent law
Francis Sullivan
9 September 2015

The failure of headmasters, bishops, administrators and others to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police has been a recurring theme in many of the 30-plus public hearings the Royal Commission has held so far.

It has shocked many people and seems to be an unbelievable way, even at the time, in which otherwise committed and conscientious people responded when told about abuse taking place under their watch.

For many different reasons institutional leaders have made deliberate decisions when told by a parent or a young person of sexual abuse to deal with it themselves, internally, undercover.

They often either ignored the claim or moved the alleged perpetrator away from his victims and their families.

This week’s media coverage of the Geelong Grammar School hearing is bringing to light yet another example where, allegedly, a school principal failed to report a child sex abuse allegation preferring to encourage the perpetrating teacher to resign with a hefty payout.

This operating procedure is repeated in many Catholic dioceses and congregations where offending priests and brothers have been moved from parish to parish, school to school, rather than reported to authorities.

The TJHC, in its most recent submission to the Royal Commission Issues paper looking into Police and Prosecution Responses to allegations of child sexual abuse, has called for a new, consistent nation-wide criminal provision requiring the reporting to the police of suspected child sexual abuse.

The new law should require anyone who has a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed against a child to disclose what they know to the police.

The only circumstance in which this would not be required is if the person has a reasonable excuse, such as where the person believes the allegations have already been reported under mandatory reporting laws.

A law such as this would require all allegations to be reported to the police. The current situation around Australia is at best confusing and at worst negligent.

In NSW the law requires serious crimes to be reported to the police and in Victoria the Crimes Act was amended last year to introduce a provision for the reporting to the police of possible sexual offences against children. However, these are the only states where similar obligations exist.

And while all states and territories have mandatory reporting laws requiring reports to be made to a range of different child protection agencies where children are at risk, there is a yawning gap about informing the police of possible sexual offences. The gap needs to be plugged.

Over the past two and a half years we have heard many reasons given for why allegations weren’t reported, ranging from ‘I didn’t know it was a crime’ to ‘we thought it best to deal with it internally’.

These reasons seem incredible and are completely unacceptable today.

New, nationally consistent, police reporting legislation would enhance a consistent, trauma informed approach to survivors of child sexual abuse across Australia.


Commission at halfway point
Francis Sullivan
2 September 2015

We are now hard on the half way mark of the Royal Commission, both in terms of the time allocated and the public policy and examination work it has set itself. 

By the end of the year it will have undertaken 33 of the up to 60 public hearings it indicated would form the examination component of its work.

Commissioner McClellan has indicated that what will surely be the last of the public hearings involving the Church will take place in early 2017. This hearing will look in more depth at a range of cultural, institutional and systemic issues that have been touched on during public hearings so far but haven’t been the subject of dedicated examination. 

The big questions of what it was about the culture of the Catholic Church at the time that led to the extent of child sexual abuse and why it was responded to the way it was will come into focus. 

That hearing will likely look more closely at the role of the Vatican in the crisis, issues such as clerical training, the screening of candidates for the priesthood and religious life, the impact of clericalism, the management of offenders and  the role of women, amongst others.

There is little doubt that by the end of 2017 the number of public hearings into the operations of the church will leave few, if any, stones unturned.

What we can expect between now and this final hearing is very much up in the air. 

What is certain is that the second half of the Ballarat hearing will be conducted and undoubtedly there will be more hearings involving the Church in 2016.

I know that for some Catholics this appears to be ‘overkill’ and too focussed on the Church at the expense of other, including government, institutions. However, on the statistics alone, the Church is the single largest grouping that is mentioned by survivors - on last report that was close to 40 percent.

On a related issue, the media attention easily slips to personalities. Whether its Bishop Heenan in Rockhampton, or retired Bishop Mulkearns or Cardinal Pell for that matter the impression can be made that the purpose of the Commission is to get some ‘scalps’ when in fact it is required to examine how institutions went about handling child sex abuse cases.

Of course institutions are made up of individuals, but they work within a culture and an environment and it is that focus which is at the heart of the Commission’s work.

The end of 2016 will also see much of the public research and policy work well underway. So far the Commission has finished its policy development on Working with Children Checks and made final recommendations on redress and civil litigation.

It has taken submissions on a range of other issues including child safe institutions, out of home care, victims of crime schemes and police reporting.

If the policy development around these issues is similar to redress and working with children then by the close of the Commission in late 2017 we will have an un-paralleled raft of new child safety research and policy recommendations. 

That said, there is still a significant body of research work to be done.

The Commissioner has made it very clear its final report will be with the Government by the end of 2017. 

It will then be up to our law makers to decide the direction in which they want to take the nation and the extent to which they are prepared to make clear and divisive decisions to protect children and to deliver justice.

The first test for governments comes within the next few weeks. As I mentioned the Commission’s report on redress for abuse survivors has been given to the Governor-General and, we assume, is now with the Federal and all other state and territory Governments.

The rubber has now hit the road. I have already made it plain that the first thing the Prime Minister should do after absorbing the 600 plus page report is to call a meeting of all state and territory leaders: premiers, chief ministers and their attorney-generals.

This meeting needs to provide the community with a clear agenda including timing on how the Commission’s recommendations on redress are going to be implemented.

If there is push back from any of these authorities it needs to be made public so we are all aware of which governments object to survivors of child sexual abuse receiving, at last, a fair go.

If there isn’t clear action within a short time of the release of the Commission’s redress report then Australian governments are telling the community that Royal Commission recommendations aren’t worth the paper they are written on.


Bishop Robinson before the Commission and report into abuse in the Scottish Church
Francis Sullivan
27 August 2015

RC redress recommendations go to Government next week
Next week the Royal Commission will send its recommendations on redress and civil litigation reforms to the Governor-General. We would expect it to be released publically very shortly after.

Its recommendations and the response from governments, state and federal, will clearly signal what, and the extent to which, survivors can expect our law makers to respond to the years of suffering and injustice they have endured.

Next week, as one by one, we see what our governments say about redress we will be able to truly gauge their commitment and willingness to stand up for abuse survivors.

As I’ve said before, redress for survivors is at the very centre of this Commission’s work – unless government’s respond positively to its recommendations then, tragically, survivors could well be left fighting their own fight against too many well resources and unsympathetic institutions who will again be let off the hook.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Commission hearing
This week retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson was the sole witness in a one-day Royal Commission hearing which looked at his involvement across some five decades of dealing with child sexual abuse within the Church. 

Bishop Robinson, who was a bishop for 31 years in the Sydney Archdiocese and a priest for 54 years, has spoken out and written widely urging "profound and enduring change" and a more compassionate approach by the Church to victims of abuse. 

His views and position within the Church are not universally accepted and he has often been in conflict with his fellow bishops.

At the hearing he gave evidence about the development of Towards Healing, his membership of the College of Consultors of the Archdiocese of Sydney, the operation of Encompass Australasia, his involvement with senior Vatican officials and many other issues.

His evidence will be used in a public hearing in early 2017 into the broader response of the Catholic Church to child sexual abuse by clergy and religious. 

Bishop Robinson made a point of highlighting the hard work of many people over the years as the Church moved towards a more compassionate approach to survivors of child sexual abuse. 

Interestingly much of his evidence, as could be said for many church leaders who have come before the Commission, is reflected in a report released this week into child abuse and the Catholic Church in Scotland.

The Scottish Commission releases report into CSA in Scottish Catholic Church
The Scottish Commission, led by Dr Andrew McLellan CBE, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and former Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, described the abuse crisis as “the greatest challenge facing the whole Catholic Church in Scotland”. 

In the report we have again seen the Church criticised for its lack of consistency and transparency in handling historic allegations of abuse.  The report concluded that support for survivors must be the Church’s absolute priority, and said that it had not been so in the past. 

It condemned a culture of secrecy and cover-up that allowed abuse to remain hidden It also made the point that by seeking to avoid scandal, the Church had caused “scandal in a theological sense” to victims and to the wider Catholic population.

It acknowledged the hard work of many within the Church to improve safeguarding, but noted that the Church in Scotland “has not made significant structural changes” in terms of embedding safeguarding in ministry and theology. 

It also called for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to be given clear authority to lay down policies and procedures around abuse “which must be followed to the letter in every diocese.” 

It also called for external scrutiny and independence and continuous professional development.

Throughout the world investigations into the way the Catholic Church handled child sexual abuse continue, with many of the final reports making similar findings and recommendations – put victims first, greater accountability, fair and compassionate redress. 

While the Royal Commission here in Australia continues to be a gruelling and challenging process for all involved – survivors in particular – it is encouraging to see Australian Church leaders continuing to push for change.

The process, recommended by the TJHC, to establish an new child protection oversight body within the Church is progressing, changes to the way church authorities approach the courts in child sex abuse claims are in place, and a radical new approach to determining redress for survivors has been fully endorsed by Church leaders. 

This is all progress which has been pushed through by the leaders of both the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia.

And while this is good news we still have a long way to go. 


Royal Commission Working With Children Checks report released
Francis Sullivan
20 August 2015 

The Royal Commission has this week released its report on ‘Working with Children Checks’, WWCC, which includes a range of proposed sweeping reforms to the present varied and non-integrated schemes that operate across Australia.

The Commission has recommended the implementation of a national working with children check, describing the lack of action by governments to fix the problems with the current schemes as ‘a significant and inexcusable failure’ that cannot continue to be ignored.

Currently, each state and territory has its own scheme for conducting background checks on people who want to work with children. The Commission has found that the schemes are inconsistent, complex and give a false sense of security to institutions and families.

The report says the problems with people working across borders pose a major problem.

“Organisations and people working across borders report substantial challenges in working with the varied schemes, including extra costs and difficulty understanding and complying with the various laws.” 

The Commission also recommends: 

  • activities or services provided by religious leaders, officers or personnel of religious organisations should be included within the definition of child related work
  • creation of a standardised approach so that key aspects of WWCC schemes are dealt with in the same way, for example, prescribing who needs a check and how records are assessed
  • allowing WWCCs to be portable across jurisdictions
  • eliminating the opportunity for forum shopping, whereby potential perpetrators can work in locations with less rigorous checking or where access to adverse records is limited
  • improving information sharing so that there is continuous monitoring of WWCC cardholders’ national criminal history records and visibility of WWCC decisions across all jurisdictions
  • denial of appeal rights against adverse WWCC decisions in some circumstances
  • providing for a system whereby people are either cleared or not cleared, rather than having conditional or role-based clearances.

The recommendation for the inclusion of church activities within the definition of child related work might pick up many voluntary church activities in which children participate. This may require those working in them to obtain a WWCC.

The extent of the obligation that may be imposed on personnel of clubs that have junior sporting teams may also need to be further explored.

It is now over to governments to consider all the recommendations and move to implement them. 

The Commission recommends that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments provide an annual report, for each of the three years following publication of the Commission’s report detailing their progress in implementing the recommendations.

If consistent cross-jurisdiction arrangements can be put in place for WWCC and other key issues then, if the will and the determination is strong enough, it can also happen with redress for child abuse survivors.

As we have seen in so many cases the lack of a national redress scheme has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of child abuse survivors treated by churches and other institutions unfairly and often with disregard.

Putting in place a national scheme in which redress is determined independently but paid for by the institution responsible must be a number one priority for the Commission and for the Governments it is reporting to.


Victorian Government releases CSA consultation paper
Francis Sullivan
12 August 2015

Last week the Victorian Government released its public consultation paper on compensation and redress for survivors of institutional child abuse.

The 38-page paper is part of the Government’s response to recommendations from the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations.

The paper outlines proposals for a redress scheme which are broadly in line with the Royal Commission’s preferred option laid out in its January discussion paper: a direct personal response from the offending institution, access to counselling and psychological care and a financial payment.

Significantly, however, this move appears to be a very clear indication that if a national scheme doesn’t eventuate then Victoria will put in place its own.

The release of this document, the first concrete contribution to the redress debate from any Australian state or territory government since the Commission started in 2013, now puts real pressure on the Commonwealth to get involved.

If the Federal Government fails to respond positively to the Royal Commission’s redress recommendations, due for release this month, then it has the potential to see the major problems survivors of CSA have faced in seeking redress continue for decades to come.

While the move by the Victorian Government must be applauded, in the absence of either a national redress scheme, or at the very least, state-based schemes that are nationally consistent, then abuse survivors will continue to receive compensation based on their postcode rather than the abuse they have suffered.

Too often we have seen the most high profile failure of Federation, the inability for state and territory governments to achieve national regulatory consistency, cripple good policy such as consistent workers compensation, licensing and other administrative processes.

If a national redress scheme becomes victim to similar parochial posturing then the hope of a nationally consistent, independent, generous redress scheme for survivors of CSA is a long way off.

The Victorian Government’s paper says it is open to participating in a national redress scheme or cooperating with other Australian governments.

It makes the point very clear, however, that “it is by no means clear that a national scheme will eventuate. It appears that the broad support required for a national redress scheme is missing amongst many other Australian governments, particularly from the Commonwealth.”

While some other States have run their own redress schemes, they have been targetted in their scope. For example, the former redress scheme in Western Australia was set up to provide redress to survivors of abuse and neglect in state care.The Victorian Government’s paper, the strongest indication yet that a redress scheme will be established for Victoria, has set the bar for the Commonwealth and other states and territories.

In the paper the Victorian Government says it has “a unique opportunity to respond to the diverse needs and experiences of a wider group of survivors than has been done in other Australian jurisdiction”.

As I’ve said before, the public hearings in this Royal Commission paint a picture of an inconsistent approach to compensation, inadequate payments and a lack of transparency about process and outcomes.

Now is the time for all governments, all institutions and all people of good will to get behind a nationally consistent redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse, as an essential first step towards ensuring justice for victims and survivors. 

Jehova's Witnesses, ALP Conference and national redress scheme
Francis Sullivan
5 August 2015

The latest Royal Commission hearing which started last week into the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church heard evidence that child sexual abuse survivors have received no redress from their Church community.

While almost 60 people have contacted the Commission regarding allegations of child sexual abuse in the Jehova’s Witnesses Church in Australia, the Commission heard that no redress claims have been made in relation to child sexual abuse concerning that Church.

It also heard that not one of 1006 cases of child abuse allegations recorded in Jehovah's Witnesses Australia documents since 1950 was reported to police.

The Commission heard that in the case of child abusers, the Book of Deuteronomy rule about needing two witnesses to a wrongdoing is applied and that this had effectively meant it is highly unlikely that claims against an abuser within Jehovah's Witnesses could be proved.

This is just one way that different churches and other institutions make it difficult for child sexual abuse survivors to seek justice and redress. 

I mention the Jehovah’s Witnesses not to single it out but to highlight the pressing need for a national, independent child sexual abuse redress scheme.

A national scheme is something abuse survivors are calling for and something that will obviously address the clear problem of institutions investigating themselves and determining how redress should be determined.

It was encouraging that the ALP National Conference last month passed a resolution to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, including a redress scheme for victims. 

The resolution binds the ALP to act on the Commission's findings, in consultation with victims, and to report annually to the parliament on the implementation of the recommendations.

While the resolution is pleasing, it appears there might be an ‘out’ for Labor when one of the delegates speaking on the motion said the recommendations would not necessarily be implemented in their entirety, but "in their spirit". 

If Labor does regain government at next year’s election then the idea of implementing recommendations ‘in spirt’ might not provide the level of confidence survivors of child sexual abuse need.

Earlier this year it was reported that Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised a “strong and comprehensive” response to whatever the Royal Commission proposes by way of compensation for abuse survivors.

Labor, the Coalition and the Greens, and State and Territory Governments need to come out now and say they will fully back in the Commission’s recommendations, particularly on redress.

There can be no ‘ifs or buts’ about this.

Almost two years of public hearings have demonstrated that institutions, left to their own devices are, for the most part, incapable of providing redress to abuse survivors. This role needs to be taken away from all institutions and vested with a national independent scheme or left to mediation or the courts, depending on the wishes of the abuse survivor.

Within weeks Commissioner McClellan is due to deliver to Government his recommendations on redress and reforms to the way in which cases of child sexual abuse should be dealt with through the legal system.

This will be a very significant milestone in the course of the Commission’s work and goes to the very heart of why it was created.

Federal, State and Territory Governments must get their act together and agree to the Commission’s recommendations on redress at the very least. Anything less will be a slap in the face for survivors and an unconscionable waste of money.

And despite the Commission pushing forward with its valuable private hearings and policy development, if an effective, generous and independent redress scheme does not emerge from the Commission’s process then survivors and the broader community could rightly see the past three years as nothing more than ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

Inaccurate Victorian Police report on CSA suicides amplifies survivors’ trauma
Francis Sullivan 
29 July 2015

There is no question the Royal Commission has highlighted and uncovered the appalling extent to which child sex abuse has been a caustic evil in so many different organisations across Australia.

This week the Commission started its 29th public hearing. It is looking at the Jehovah Witnesses Church and so far the evidence tells a disturbingly familiar story – children not believed, institutional cover-up, reputation ahead of protection.

Since early last year the Royal Commission has held public hearings looking at Government based health care providers, State Government homes, facilities run by the Anglican Church, high profile private schools, Jewish organisations, the Salvation Army, Swimming Australia, The YMCA, the Scouts and many institutions within the Catholic Church.

While I cannot speak for any other organisations it seems most have approached these hearings cooperatively and with a willingness to provide assistance where they can.

This has certainly been the case with the Catholic dioceses and congregations which the Truth Justice and Healing Council has represented before the Commission.

What we saw last week however with the exposure in The Australian newspaper that the widely reported Victorian Police investigation into suicides connected to child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is, at best, factually wrong is a major concern.

The Victorian Police report has now, according to The Australian, been largely discredited by its own internal review. In an editorial this week The Australian says:

‘After claiming 43 church-related suicides had taken place, police now concede the real figure was one suicide in which church-related sex abuse was a contributing factor.’

The editorial says victims of child sexual abuse who have ‘fought a long, painful battle for justice’ have had their cause ‘set back by the incompetence of, and shameful distortions by, Victoria Police.’

The Police report, in its original form, has often been at the centre of many stories condemning the Church. Significantly, The Australian refers to it as being central to the establishment of the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry.

Make no mistake; there is no doubt in my mind that there are many cases of suicide connected with child sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic brothers, priests and others. I have spoken with too many survivors and heard too many stories to question this.

But if anything is to come from the Royal Commission and the other investigations over the past few years into child sexual abuse we need to know the truth, we need to know the facts.

There is more than enough information in the public arena and being revealed at the many public hearings to understand that the Church and other institutions have failed children for many years in the most appalling ways.

The false claims by the Victorian Police should in no way give succor to the leaders of Church organisations that have been the focus of Commission hearings.

But when a report such as this Victorian Police report is found to be, at best misleading, then it reinforces in the minds of some that these investigations are designed simply as ‘get the Catholics’ exercises.

This is not the case and it serves no one any good, lest of all the survivors of child sex abuse, for it to be given any support by discredited evidence and reports.

The Royal Commission processes and all that surrounds it are traumatic enough for survivors without false and misleading claims dressed up as official reports inaccurately amplifying the horrors.


Thirty years of child sexual abuse reporting from National Catholic Reporter
Francis Sullivan
July 16, 2015

In the editorial that is part of this week’s series of stories in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) on child sexual abuse readers are painted a thumb nail picture of how it was dealt with for many years by Church leaders in the USA.

This is how the NCR said it went: If a serious crime of sexual abuse is committed, firstly conceal it; if an accuser comes forward, deny and condemn them; if they persist, offer to pay for their silence; if that fails, hire the best lawyers available; as a last resort try to settle and apologize to anyone who may have been hurt.

The editorial describes this scenario as “unthinkable”, but “descriptive of the very behavior that Catholics have witnessed among their leaders, with slight variations, for the past 30 years.”

The stories in the NCR this week, which we link to in this edition of our newsletter, are from reporters, advocates and commentators who have covered the abuse in the US Church for years, who have quite reasonably posed the question “what did leaders know and when did they know it?"

There is a piece from a priest who argues that survivors of clerical sexual abuse have forced a rewrite of the Church’s history and forced a change in the way it operates and a story from a survivor-advocate about the struggle to be heard.

For more than 30 years the National Catholic Reporter in the US has been reporting on child sexual abuse both within the US church and more broadly across the Catholic Church world-wide.

The author says “this highly toxic dimension of the institutional church and its clerical subculture has been exposed in country after country on every continent”.

Over the decades progress has been made, particularly with reforms and accountability introduced recently by Pope Francis and some of the earlier protocols developed here which opened up a pathway for survivors to connect with the Church and seek justice.

Not everything has worked, many survivors still feel the same disconnect and antagonism which is part of the history of child sexual abuse here, in the US and many other countries.

In Australia the Church has a unique opportunity. The Royal Commission is driving change. Not just in the Catholic Church but across the community.

We should embrace this opportunity to establish the Church as a credible organisation willing to acknowledge failings, accept criticism, and put in place reforms and move forward.

Of course this is a challenging process and one that requires a determination and resolve born of a commitment to justice and those who have been abused. Our history demands nothing less for us. 


Perth safeguarding measures and Christian Brothers revisit claims
Francis Sullivan
July 8, 2015

This week I have been in Perth where the local Archbishop, Timothy Costello, continues to be at the very front of the push to ensure children within his community are safe and that the Church is doing all it can to put in place best practise child protection policies and procedures.

This weekend, in the latest of a series of announcements, he launched a new child safeguarding program that will see at least two trained safeguarding officers in each of the Archdiocese’s 105 parishes.

They will be the first port of call within the parish for anyone with concerns about child protection and the possibility of abuse. 

The project is designed to educate parents, church personnel and members of the clergy. It will also be used to instruct young children about sexual abuse and its prevention.

This is all about working to ensure children are safe and that the opportunity for sexual abuse to occur is reduced. 

In announcing the project Archbishop Costello said he believed there will be some very specific recommendations coming from the Commission. “But while we wait for these, we shouldn’t just sit back and do nothing. Children need to be protected today. 

“The Safeguarding Project is at the heart of our determination to make sure the present and the future are completely different from the past,” he said.

I spoke briefly to ABC radio in Perth while I was there.

The Christian Brothers also this week released their latest update on settlement of cases they have revisited following the Royal Commission hearing last year into orphanages and farm schools the Brothers ran during the second half of last century.

It is reassuring to see the Brothers are working hard to fulfil their commitment to the Commission to re-examine cases with former residents that have been settled on unjust and unreasonably low terms.

In the report released on Monday the Brothers indicate they have now reopened and finalised around half of the 130 cases which former residents of the farms asked to be looked at afresh. 

Importantly the new settlements have been negotiated through mediation with former residents being assisted by legal advisors. 

What we are seeing in Perth and with the Christian Brothers are Church institutions actively getting on with the job of instigating new policies, putting in place protections and not sitting on their hands waiting for reform to be thrust upon it. 

Last weekend Commissioner McClellan gave a speech to the Care Leavers Australia Network.

In it he revealed that at least one third of the Commission’s private sessions, and at least 37% of the allegations it had received relate to Catholic institutions.

He said the Commission would “be remiss if we did not attempt to understand whether there were particular characteristics within the Catholic Church, including the selection, training and management of priests, which increased the likelihood that ordained members of the Church would become abusers of children. 

“If we are to provide a satisfactory answer to the ‘why’ question we have to be able to understand the characteristics of offenders and any short comings in their personality, training and management which contributed to their abusing young children.” 

This is at the very heart of the Commission’s work, understanding why. And the stark reality is that within the Catholic Church, where so much of the Commission’s work is emanating, we all need to understand that this process, this Royal Commission, is essential and absolutely necessary. 

And at the end of this process we all need to be able to say and demonstrate, that in whatever way we are involved with the Commission, whether directly or indirectly, we have cooperated fully, we have contributed to a better understanding of what happened in the past and we are now working to ensure the abuse and flawed response never happens again.


Fairbridge class action, PIC report, and the absolute need for national redress
Francis Sullivan
July 2, 2015

The resolution of a class action by around 150 former residents of the Fairbridge Farm School in regional NSW was a great win for survivors of child sexual abuse and a continuing reminder of the extraordinary hurdles they face when they go to court.

The $24 million award to the claimants came after a six-year legal battle, 21 court hearings and 50,000 pages of historical documents. Many of the legal and delay tactics are familiar to survivors in the Catholic Church who have tried to take similar claims to Court.

The lawyer for the former residents said eight people who had originally been part of the claim had died before this week’s announcement.

The Fairbridge Farm School is similar to the agriculture schools and orphanages run by the Christian Brothers in WA which were the subject of a Royal Commission public hearing at the end of last year.

The young children, many unattached migrants from the UK, endured sexual and physical abuse. They were beaten, forced to work in slave-like conditions and the ones who did speak up were not believed and punished further.

The lawyer for the former residents, Roop Sandhu, said of the time in court, not a single day was spent debating abuse.

“The Fairbridge class action did not go to trial. Litigation was concerned with technical legal arguments – raised by the defendants – about whether the case should proceed as a class action or proceed at all given the limitation period,” he said.

While this is a great win, it once again highlights the clear and immediate need for a national, generous, independent redress scheme.

Abuse survivors should have a viable alternative to going through the long, drawn-out, painful and confronting court process these people endured. Abuse survivors need to be able to access redress quickly, with limited cost and involvement of lawyers and expect a fair and generous outcome.

This is not just the Catholic Church’s view; it is shared by many survivor groups, advocates for the Fairbridge kids and some lawyers including Vivian Waller who spoke to Fran Kelly about the Fairbridge result on Radio National breakfast this week.

Another compelling argument for the national redress scheme has also solidified over the past week with the release recently of the NSW Police Integrity report into the ‘blind reporting’ of historic child sex abuse to the police. I spoke about this last week.

What is now clear following this report is that if an abuse survivor wants to bring an historic claim of child sexual abuse to Towards Healing, some other part of the Catholic Church or any other organisation in NSW, regardless of their wish to remain anonymous, all the details of the abuse must go to the Police including their name.

This differs slightly from the current practice in some parts of the Church in NSW where all information, other than the survivor’s name, is provided to the police, including the name of the perpetrator and any other details.

We know this is a problem for some survivors, who have never revealed the abuse to their families or others and want it to remain that way. Closing down ‘blind reporting’ may have the unwanted impact of stopping survivors coming forward. Obviously, this would be a bad development.

A national redress scheme, however, will achieve another avenue for survivors looking for redress.

Given a new redress scheme will be built from the ground up with its primary concern focused sharply on survivors, it will hopefully be able to put in place some sort of mechanism which protects their privacy while at the same time being able to meet all the legal requirements of reporting to the police.

Depending on the structure of the scheme it will hopefully provide the redress they are seeking, the ongoing counselling and other support, an acknowledgement of the abuse and an apology, within the privacy of a national independent redress scheme.

The survivors of Fairbridge waited a generation for people to listen to them, to believe them and to have their abuse acknowledged – as have many abuse survivors within the Catholic Church.

Child abuse claims should not be bitterly contested in courts for years, while survivors die, loose their homes and families, struggle to make a living and a contribution to society and, in many cases, ultimately receive very little, if anything at all.

Doing the maths on the Fairbridge award, it is unlikely that of the 150 people involved they will receive, on average, any more than $150,000 each after legal costs are paid.

This, presumably by coincidence, is the mid-point in the range suggested by the Royal Commission as a cap on redress in a national scheme.

I’m sure if these survivors could have gone to a national redress scheme rather than spending six years going back and forward to court then they would have come away feeling like the system was on their side rather than trying to break them down.



CRA National Assembly, Police Reporting
Francis Sullivan
June 25, 2015

Police Integrity Commission report into ‘blind reporting’

Late last week the NSW Police Integrity Commission (PIC) released its report into the involvement of NSW Police with the Catholic Church’s Professional Standards Resource Group (PSRG) and Professional Standards Office (PSO) in NSW and what is known as ‘blind reporting’ of historic child sexual abuse allegations.

The investigation followed three stories on Lateline in mid-2013 in which it was claimed the Church in NSW ‘had tried to strike a secret agreement with the NSW Police to allow it to withhold information about paedophile priests’.

Blind reporting is a practise unique to NSW of reporting an allegation of sexual abuse to the police without identifying the victim. All other information, including the name of the perpetrator, is provided.

A blind report is only made when the adult survivor who has come to the Church has specifically said they do not want the report taken to the police.

Although under the Church’s Towards Healing and Melbourne Response adult survivors are encouraged to make a report to the police, it is a fact that for various reasons, survivors often do not want the police involved.  That said, there is a clear difference between complying with the wishes of survivors, and entering into some illegal arrangement permitting the withholding of information from the police in general.

The Lateline stories were detailed and confronting and I did a long interview with Tony Jones at the time in which I said the claims needed to be investigated and we would fully cooperate.

Following the stories the TJHC started collecting information, including an FOI search within all state Police Forces and other agencies, to see if we could find anything that indicated a formal agreement had been made to hide information, in NSW or elsewhere.  Nothing came to light. All the information we collected was provided to the Royal Commission.

Almost two years to the day since the first Lateline story, the 260 page PIC report found there was no formal agreement to withhold information: in fact it noted that NSW PSO would always co-operate when police requested information.  It also found the Catholic Church had not received any unique preferential treatment and that blind reports of sexual assaults from other Churches were also accepted by the Police.

The PIC has expressed the view however that blind reporting is in breach of the NSW Crimes Act and blind reports should not have been accepted by the NSW police.

The PIC findings mean that there is an issue now for any organisation in NSW, church or otherwise, as to what it should do when it becomes aware of an allegation of sexual abuse but the adult survivor making the claim does not want the police involved.

On the face of the PIC report it seems that in NSW, regardless of the wishes of the abuse victim, the identity of the survivor must be reported immediately, along with the details of the abuse and the identity of the perpetrator, which has always been reported.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t stop victims coming forward.

CRA National Assembly

This week I was lucky to arrive a bit early to address the National Assembly of Catholic Religious Australia in Brisbane.

It was interesting to hear US Josephite sister, Dr Carol Zinn speak about the challenges facing religious life and religious leaders, one of which was to remain close to people on the margins, people who struggle and people who have been disadvantaged in the Church. I know this resonated with leaders in the room on Wednesday as our later discussion turned to issues of healing and pastoral support for victims of child sex abuse. Everyone was acutely aware that the Church’s resources and experience in pastoral and spiritual healing need to be brought to bear on this issue.

This dovetailed into the presentation by Sr Annette Cunliffe, co-Executive Officer at the National Committee for Professional Standards.

Sr Annette talked about the impact of the Royal Commission on the work of the NCPS. In relation to the Council’s consultations on a new overarching national child protection body in the Catholic Church, she called for a working party to develop the standards that would be monitored by the new body currently under consideration. She said there was more awareness and professionalism in the Church than there was three years ago and she encouraged congregations to maintain their focus on the wellbeing of children.  She encouraged each congregation to establish a dedicated role that deals with issues around the protection of children and vulnerable people.

The Council is looking forward to handing over its recommendations later this year for action by the Church leadership. At the end of the day we can consult and provide advice but it’s up to the bishops and religious leaders to take this forward. I’m not sure yet what the new entity will look like or how it will be rolled out, but one thing is clear, the status quo is not an option.


Can credibility ever be rebuilt?
Francis Sullivan
June 17, 2015

Late last week the St Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Hobart put on an information evening attended by about 50 people. It was one of the many talks I do around Australia – simply to talk to ordinary Catholics about what the Council is doing, why we’re doing it, what we can expect from the whole Royal Commission process. 

It doesn’t matter if five people or 200 attend – you can hear a pin drop. People are intensely interested. They feel it deeply. The questions I’m asked are deep and insightful. Some people are angry, others are confused, others are really disappointed. Others are still wondering how this could have happened in the Catholic Church. 

And while no one in these rooms have their fingerprints on the past, all seem to be prepared to accept part of the collective shame associated with child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.  Just as importantly there seems to be a strong willingness to take some responsibility for ensuring the future is better, that all the issues are dealt with openly and honestly and that action is taken. 

One of the questions I am always asked at these Parish meetings is ‘what can we do?’ My response is always two fold. 

First, keep talking about the issues, to each other, to your local priest, to your Bishop. Demand that they are engaged and that as a congregation you are part of the discussion. Insist that you know what is happening locally and what the Church is doing nationally. 

Second, keep your hearts open to survivors, let them know they are welcome in the church if that is what they want, reach out, be inclusive both within the parish and outside. 

The credibility of the Catholic Church around Australia is low. I hear it everywhere. Attendance has fallen dramatically. The relevance of the Catholic Church in every-day life is questioned. 

When you have something as serious as childhood sex abuse, perpetrated by vowed religious and clerics, the hypocrisy cuts deep and it largely drowns out anything said about other issues across the many parts of our communities in which the Church is doing great work: education, health, welfare, social justice.

If we are ever to be heard when we speak about refugees, about the living wage, about the poor and the disadvantaged then we need to have fully disclosed and put in place reforms that deliver justice and compassion for child sexual abuse survivors.

This is what the TJHC is working to achieve.


Letters, A Parish visit, the Pope's announcement, more...
Francis Sullivan
June 11, 2015

I’ve had lots of emails and letters in the past couple of months as the Church hit the spotlight again through the Rockhampton and Ballarat hearings. I appreciate the feedback, the good and the bad. It helps to keep a healthy focus on the survivors, their families and their communities. I am in the process of responding to everyone who has taken the time to write to the Council.

Those letters add to the valuable feedback I get as I travel around talking to schools, parishes and other groups. 

This week I visited the Stella Maris Parish on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to attend one of the biggest parish meetings to talk about child sexual abuse and the Church to around 200 people on a rainy night in the local church for more than 2 hours. That Parish has been very active in its support of survivors and I have heard from several of those parishioners over the past couple of years. It was instructive to spend time there and to hear the stories from the coalface.

I don’t think I have been to any other parish meeting, and I’ve been to more than 60 where the anger and frustration from ordinary Catholics has come through so clearly. You could almost feel the demand for change and reform in the room. I was asked many questions about what the Church leadership is doing and when the community will start to see changes and acceptance of responsibility for past failings. These are all good questions that deserve good answers.

Also this week Pope Francis put another plank in his reform agenda with the announcement of a new department in the Vatican to ‘judge’ Bishops accused of covering up or not preventing sexual abuse of minors. The new department is being reported as ‘a breakthrough moment on an issue that has plagued the church globally’. Let’s hope it is able to deliver on what is much needed reform and something abuse survivors and many others have been calling for, for a long time.

We are still feeling the shock waves from the Ballarat Royal Commission public hearing with the commentary and the speculation around the appearance of Cardinal Pell in the second part of the hearing later this year still swirling.

Two things regarding the hearing are now clear – The Royal Commission will ask and Cardinal Pell will give evidence at the Ballarat hearing later in the year. As I’ve said before it will be in the Royal Commission hearing room that many of the questions that were left hanging will be answered and that is how it should be.


Ballarat wrap up
Francis Sullivan
June 3, 2015

It’s been a heavy couple of weeks in Ballarat.

The Royal Commission hearing has rightly brought to the surface more evidence of the deep and lasting impact of the terrible crimes committed there against children by clergy in past decades.

It has also exposed, yet again, the inadequate response of the Church to allegations of child sexual abuse from the 1950s.

The Royal Commission heard evidence from convicted paedophile and former priest, Gerald Ridsdale, who is serving a lengthy jail sentence for crimes committed against some of the most vulnerable children in Ballarat and in rural and regional parishes in the Diocese in the 1960s 70s and 80s.

His memory lapses were frustrating and counterproductive. His evidence provided a picture of a man who acted out of self-interest seeking self-gratification with little, if any insight into the impact of his crimes on his victims.

But most shockingly, we heard evidence that the predominant response of the church in previous decades was to protect the reputation of the Church and the offenders without regard to the children who were abused.

The Ballarat hearing raised more questions than it answered.

Some of those questions relate to Cardinal Pell and his time as a priest in Ballarat.

In line with previous commitments, Cardinal Pell will return from Rome to provide evidence when the hearing resumes towards the end of this year.

The question of the Cardinal’s participation in the Ballarat hearing has been the subject of much speculation in recent days, culminating, perhaps in 60 Minutes on Sunday night when Peter Saunders, a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors called for the Cardinal to step aside in the face of allegations.

Cardinal Pell is a well-known public face of the Catholic Church in Australia – a lightening-rod if you like and a target because of his strong conservative views.

He’s been a muscular defendant of the Church at a number of levels on many issues. He can be gruff, and what he feels personally, we don’t often hear. 

That said, his ‘can-do’ attitude did deliver the Melbourne Response complaints handling system. He has been a strong supporter of our Council’s approach in this Royal Commission.

In his appearances before the Royal Commission so far, Cardinal Pell has apologised, he’s admitted mistakes. He said the way John Ellis was treated was ‘not Christian’.

Now that the Royal Commission has made it clear the Cardinal will be called as a witness, he, like any other others called, will have an opportunity to explain his role as a priest in Ballarat during his time there.

There are questions around what he did and didn’t know, and what he did or didn’t do.

He will have the opportunity to explain all this rather than negotiate the media frenzy that has surrounded this issue.

These are very difficult and frustrating times for survivors, their families, and their communities. And they’re challenging times for the Church as it’s called to account not only here in Australia, but internationally.


The damage of child abuse and the pathology of child sex offenders
Francis Sullivan
May 27, 2015

This week in the Royal Commission’s Ballarat hearing, psychiatrist Carolyn Quadrio gave evidence about the impact of child sex abuse on survivors and also the pathology of child sex abusers.

Professor Quadrio, an Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales and a consultant family psychiatrist, is one of just a few expert witnesses that have given evidence in hearings involving the Church. What she told the Commission was considered, forthright and informative.

She has worked with abusers and the abused for over 30 years. She told the Commission that abuse survivors are prone to various mental health problems, and that the tendency to keep the abuse a secret worsens the psychological damage.

She said childhood abuse affects every aspect of a person's development.

“Children will be affected in terms of their capacity to form relationships, their ability to function at school, their ability to progress in education and their ability to progress in employment. They're often anxious, depressed, they often turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of kind of medicating their distress and so then substance abuse becomes a problem.

Professor Quadrio told the Commission children usually don't make disclosures at the time of the abuse. She said when they do make disclosures they're often not believed. “And not being believed itself is an extremely damaging experience so that kind of compounds the trauma that they've already been subjected to,” she said.

She told the Commission that when a member of the clergy sexually abuses a child it can be even more damaging because young children see a priest or a member of the clergy as someone who's close to God,  “so the sense of betrayal is particularly shattering because it's kind of like not just one bad person but it's… it feels like well maybe God's bad.

She also said the negative response from the family and community can compound the damage enormously.

She told the Commission about 25 per cent of girls and 5 to 15 per cent of boys suffer some sort of abuse in the general community while for children living in institutions about 30 per cent of girls and 20 per cent of boys are abused.

She said while international studies have shown the sexual abuse of children has been higher in Catholic institutions she did not think celibacy drives child abuse, rather that men who have a sexual orientation to children might feel comfortable in the priesthood.

“You know the celibacy vow is not going to bother you if you're not interested in having sex with, you know, with other adults. So they have access, they have authority and they have the cover of a very respected profession.”

Professor Quadrio’s evidence has provided an enormous amount of information to the Commission. In the course of her evidence she touched on many issues that the Church and particularly the Truth Justice and Healing Council will need to explore in greater depth as we move to a more solid understanding of the impact of child sex abuse and the pathology of sex abusers in the Church. 


Taking the Church to Court
Francis Sullivan
May 21, 2015

Over the past week there has been much media coverage and discussion about the ‘Ellis defence’ and whether dioceses and congregations are still using or threatening it to force abuse survivors away from taking their claims to Court.

I have spoken often about the Ellis defence which was at the centre of a Royal Commission public hearing last year and is the subject of a major law reform recommendation the TJHC has made to the Royal Commission with the endorsement of the Church leadership.

Just by way of background, what has become known as the Ellis defence involves a Church relying on the legal proposition that an unincorporated association cannot be sued in its own name because it does not exist as a legal entity.

In the case of John Ellis, who was an altar boy who suffered sexual abuse during the 1970s, when he tried to sue the church over the abuse, the courts rejected the claim, ruling that the Church wasn't a legal entity, and it wasn't liable for abuse committed by a priest.

This has led to the headline grabbing claim ‘the Church can’t be sued’.

The facts are that Church entities can be sued, often are, but what needs to be identified is the correct entity to respond to the proceedings.

This will often require the willingness on the part of the church authority in the frame letting the lawyers for the victim know who to file their claim against.

This is where the TJHC recommendation on reforms of the civil litigation comes in.

Last year, in two submissions to the Royal Commission, we made the recommendation that legislation should be introduced to require any unincorporated institutions such as a dioceses, congregation, sports or swimming clubs being sued for child sexual abuse identify an entity, what’s known as a Proper Defendant, to be sued.

Some congregations and diocese, not all, are on the record, acknowledging the difficulties victims face in in taking a sex abuse claim to Court. Some are also on the record supporting the policy position that a victim of child sexual abuse by a Church official ought to be able to bring a claim against the Church. The Archdioceses of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane included.

When we made our recommendation on a proper defendant we also said legislation should be introduced to ensure all unincorporated associations toe the line. This provides equal opportunity for all survivors of child sexual regardless of who abused them or where it happened.


Ballarat Public Hearing starts on Tuesday
Francis Sullivan
14 May 2015

Tuesday sees the start of a three week scheduled public hearing of the Royal Commission into the child sex abuses scandals within the Catholic Church in the Ballarat Diocese.

For most Catholics this news is met with a sense of dread and shame. For the community of Ballarat and it's surrounds it is bittersweet.

As with all the Royal Commission hearings this one will give people a chance to tell their story and for the wide community to hear a sample of what has occurred reaching back at least into the 1960s.

This is important. It is also unsettling for many as they confront once again the horror of the reality that Catholic Church personnel not only abused children but didn't do enough to bring people to justice and also to stop perpetrators abusing time and time again!

Many observers have commented that the community of Ballarat is very fragile and still angry about the child sex abuse scandal. Why wouldn't it be. The loss of trust in the Church and the sense of betrayal runs deep. So too does the cynicism about where the Church is going to repair the damage.

There are no magic solutions for Church leaders. Even though Bishops Connors and Bird have done a lot of practical things to address concerns of victims still more is required.

All Church leaders need to demonstrate that they are willing and able to place Church services under stricter standards of protection for children and vulnerable people. They need to demonstrate that future redress needs to be independently determined. They also need to show in practical ways that the Church has a pastoral commitment to victims for as long as it takes, even if that means for life!

I am not looking forward to the next three weeks as once again the re-telling of the trauma from survivors brings with it the heavy realities of crimes perpetrated on defenceless children.

But I know one thing for sure, I will once again be witness to a bravery and a resolve on the part of those survivors which speaks of a moral courage that was so lacking from those who should have known better back in the day when the image of the Church was protected rather than the rights of the victims.

PS if you don't know, we try to post a brief summary of each day's hearings on our website.

This is our attempt to bear witness to the stories of abuse and to keep people informed about the general issues covered each day.

You can read these updates, along with other material on the hearing including witness statements and transcripts at:



The ripples of suffering and the Ballarat RC hearing
Francis Sullivan
8 May 2015

In the last few weeks I have been delivering talks and meeting with many different people in parishes and other settings up and down the east coast.

Everywhere I go the horror of sexual abuse of children leaves people dumbfounded that such a scandal not only occurred but that otherwise good people often did little to prevent it occurring.

At these occasions people often come up to chat after the presentation. They want to talk privately about their experiences or let me know that they are struggling to be heard by ‘the powers that be’.  Many times it relates to the slowness of the Church’s response or to the sense that Church officials still don’t get the full impact of this scandal.

When I started working in this area experienced people told me the impact of sexual abuse is far reaching. They were referring to the vicarious trauma felt beyond the victim by their families, friends and support people. Often those caring for victims and walking with them in their journey to survive are likewise victims of the abuse. The ripples in the pond go very wide.

It is this devastation that haunts the lives of so many people. It has its own pathology. Often support people suffer in silence and go without recognition. Too few are acknowledged for the vital role they have played in bringing a degree of health and equilibrium to the lives of those who were directly abused. I hope the Royal Commission does not forget them when it comes time to make recommendations on who can access redress systems.

At these same events I have encountered other victims of this scandal who also suffer in silence. Partly they remain quiet out of fear of being disrespectful to those who were abused. These are the families of people who have been wrongly accused or who were the subject of mistaken identity. I too feel hesitant in raising this because some people may think that I am trying to shift the attention away from the victims of abuse. But I am not. I simply want to acknowledge the toxic impacts the abuse scandal has wrought on our community.

Some reputations have been wrongly damaged and some families devastated when accusations have been falsely or mistakenly made. This brings its own misery and suffering and in the interests of getting all the truth out this too needs to be heard.

On a related matter I recently read a draft paper on the devastation abuse brings to a person’s sense of spirituality, particularly within a religious context. Having an appreciation of how an individual’s sense of God, truth and beauty can be utterly shattered when religious personnel have perpetrated abuse on an unsuspecting child is yet again a shameful legacy that too many people suffer.

If we are to take seriously a resolve to heal individuals and the community of the wounds of abuse, we need to address all those who are hurt and all the circumstances they are in.

The Royal Commission this week released its official announcement about the Ballarat hearing which will start on Tuesday 19 May and is expected to last up to three weeks. The community of Ballarat will hear from survivors, from at least one perpetrator and from others in the community.

This will be a sorry and sad time for so many people in Ballarat, for survivors, for their families friends and supporters, for Catholics and for the broader community.

During this time and beyond we all need to do what we can to support each other, to support survivors and their supporters, to support our school communities and teachers, sisters and brothers, clergy and parishioners.

I expect many people will need or be looking for help in many different ways as the hearing unfolds.  On both our website and the Commission’s website are lists and contact details for the many services that can help.


Ballarat hearing, coming up and redress
Francis Sullivan
29 April 2015

The Rockhampton hearing into St Joseph’s Orphanage in Neerkol finished last week and in the next month or so we will begin the public hearing into child abuse that occurred in and around Ballarat in Victoria in the decades up to the 1990s.

The hearing isn’t looking exclusively at abuse within the Catholic Church but evidence from survivors of abuse within local Church institutions will be difficult and challenging. Our thoughts are again with the people who will stand up and tell their stories.

As part of the preparations for the hearing we will visit the Diocese of Ballarat this week to talk to priests and parish leaders and key diocesan personnel about the work of the Royal Commission and what to expect in the weeks ahead. The hearing has been scheduled for three weeks with a possible further hearing later in the year.

As the hearings continue, the Royal Commission is releasing its policy and research work. The Council is in the process of summarising those papers. You can see summaries to date on the TJHC website

An important part of our work is to ensure the community is aware of the work of the Royal Commission and of the Truth Justice and Healing Council.

This week I will be at the general meeting of the Principals’ Association of Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools in Melbourne to talk about the work of the Royal Commission and the Council. I’ll also speak at a parish forum at St Marks in Drummoyne in Sydney.

And this weekend I’ve been invited to a national meeting of the Catholic School Parents Association in Sydney where we will discuss the reform options currently being considered by the Council, particularly about the need for an independent national body to set and report on standards in the Catholic Church.

In June or July the Commission will release its final report and recommendations on redress for the survivors of child sexual abuse.

As I’ve said before, this work is at the very heart of the Royal Commission process. At every hearing we have been involved in we have heard survivors give evidence about how they have been treated when they have approached the Church looking for redress.

And while we have worked hard for almost twenty years using both Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response as mechanisms to deliver redress we, along with the rest of the community, are at a cross road.

The Commission’s preferred option is for an independent, national redress scheme administered by the Commonwealth Government which every survivor regardless of where, when or who they were abused by can access.

It is a scheme that will deliver fair, consistent and compassionate redress paid for by the institution responsible for the abuse. It has been endorsed by many church and secular institutions, by survivors and their advocates and by some, certainly not all, governments.

In its submission to the Commission, the Commonwealth has dismissed such a scheme as too complex, expensive and impractical.

The Council will continue to exert pressure and promote the benefits of a national redress scheme and try to get all governments fully engaged in working towards a national redress framework in which government and non-government institutions alike will take part.


Rockhampton Hearing, Redress
24 April 2015

The Rockhampton hearing into St Joseph’s Orphanage in Neerkol finished this week. It was a tragic and miserable week and a half where survivors from the Orphanage told shocking stories of abuse and betrayal.

A glimmer of hope and encouragement came on the last day when the current leader of the Sisters of Mercy, Berneice Loch and a former leader, Di-Anne Rowan gave evidence about how the Sisters work with the survivors now.

As with so many of these public hearings it is so clear about the absolute necessity for all institutions which provide care for children to keep the safety and dignity of children front and centre and to listen to the voices of the children in their care.

Just as importantly, this hearing has shown how easy it is to disbelieve the stories of abuse and in turn the tragedy that was unfolding under the governance of the Church.

History has been a harsh teacher, and vulnerable children have paid a high price as the church and other institutions slowly get their act together.

Listening this week to evidence from a former Rockhampton bishop and Sisters of Mercy, and from Queensland government officials, it is quite shocking to realise just how ill-informed people in positions of authority were about the risks to children and how ill prepared they were to believe allegations, let alone to put in place measures to protect vulnerable children and provide meaningful support.

Former Bishop of Rockhampton, Brian Heenan, acknowledged the inadequacy of his response to allegations of abuse when he said outside the hearing:

“I apologise again for the harm and suffering of former St Joseph’s Orphanage residents at the hands of the Catholic Church clerics, sisters and staff.

I also apologies again for the way in which I responded to these victims. I failed them and for that I will be forever sorry. 

As heartfelt as those words are, they may help with the healing for some survivors, but they cannot undo the terrible crimes committed against vulnerable children.

As I’ve said many times we need action.

The TJHC is currently working on setting up an independent body that will set and publicly report on standards that affect children and vulnerable people in Catholic schools, parishes and welfare services in Australia. It will provide a nationally consistent, accountable and transparent approach to the safety of children within Church organisations.

At the same time, the Council is pushing for a national redress scheme that will provide a more just and consistent approach to compensation for all survivors of sexual abuse in Australian institutions.

The country needs an independent umpire to investigate, determine what happened, determine what should be paid and then demand the institution responsible for the abuse pay the compensation. Importantly there is nothing in this proposal that would see one cent of tax payer money paying for abuse that occurred in the Catholic Church.

The Commonwealth Government says it’s too complex, too time consuming, too costly. Read its submission here, it won’t take you long, it’s only two and a bit pages.

It’s breathtaking that the Federal Government, which established and significantly extended this Royal Commission, should dismiss so quickly the first real recommendation from the Commission.

Our political leaders, for the most part have been silent. That has to change.


St Jospeh's Orphanage Neerkol
Diocese of Rockhampton, Institute of the Sisters of Mercy
Francis Sullivan
16 April 2015

This week’s hearing in Rockhampton into an orphanage has been a tragic and sorry story of abuse suffered by some of the youngest children in some of the worst circumstances you can imagine.

It is clear that the former residents who have given evidence this week were the victims of very harsh conditions and physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

What we know is that the Church was initially very slow to react to complaints when they were first made. In time, the church authorities took a different approach and despite being able to legally knock out the claims, they went ahead and settled with more than 80, ultimately paying out more than $1.1million to former residents.

The Sisters sold the Neerkol property in order to pay their share of the legal settlement and continued support of the survivors. They have always acknowledged their ongoing ministry of care for Neerkol residents.

The Sisters of Mercy and the Diocese of Rockhampton have both acknowledged and apologised, most recently this week in a joint statement, for the hurt and damage suffered by the survivors and have been providing support to the former residents of Neerkol for many years.

One of the witnesses this week said while the compensation she had received from the Sisters could never repair the damage done to her at Neerkol she felt nuns of today were trying to right what happened in the past.

“I do appreciate the help the sisters have provided to me.  Anne Czekanski, the response coordinator for the Sisters of Mercy, has never turned her back on any ex residents if they have asked for help.  

“I feel that she has gone above and beyond her call of duty and has shown a real care for the former residents of Neerkol.

“While they can't fix everything, they are trying as much as they can to make our lives easier.”

This will be small consolation for many former residents but it does indicate a very real change in the way some people in the church are responding to abuse survivors. 

The strength and resilience we have seen and heard this week from former residents is remarkable.

They are powerful advocates and have been instrumental in securing assistance, redress and justice for all who were abused at Neerkol, from the church authorities, and also from the state government.

Once again the hearing so far has demonstrated just why we need a national independent redress scheme funded by the institutions responsible for the abuse.


Government response to redress breath taking
Francis Sullivan
10 April 2015

Three cheers for the Sydney Morning Herald editorial of 5 April 2015.

The non-negotiable ruling-out by the Commonwealth Government of support for a national redress scheme has been breath taking.

At a time when national leadership is required to address the scourge of child sexual abuse in institutions our Commonwealth Government has left the field! You have to wonder where in the Commonwealth bureaucracy the decision was made to reject the Royal Commission’s options on redress. 

Given the reasons in the Commonwealth’s brief submission, those mainly being based on the administrative load and cost sharing issues between levels of government, it is clear senior leaders of the Government were not engaged with this vital social issue for the nation.

Let’s run through some of the basic considerations that seem to have alluded those charged with submitting the Commonwealth’s response.

Firstly, a proper public policy approach is to adopt a principle of fairness. In this case it seems more than obvious that victims of child sexual abuse should be able to access the same level of redress regardless of when the abuse occurred, where it occurred or from within what institution it occurred. For any even casual observer of the Royal Commission hearings, this is a ‘no brainer’.

Secondly, apart from the Catholic Church, there have been very few organised institutional redress schemes on offer since the late 1990s for victims. I am the first the acknowledge that Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response have worked for some and not for others, but at the very least the schemes were available. Forother victims outside the Church there is precious little to rely on apart from lawyers and the civil litigation system.

Thirdly, governments, at both the Commonwealth, state and territory levels have had responsibility for child services. Unfortunately child sexual abuse has occurred within government controlled institutions. Why should these victims be regarded differently to those from other institutions? Why should victims in government institutions only have access to limited redress schemes, or none at all?

Fourthly, the Commonwealth rightly extended the Royal Commission’s time to cater for the demand on the inquiry. To do otherwise would have been seen as a cynical exercise. Just as cynical is an approach that unilaterally rules out the option of a national redress scheme even before the issue was publicly discussed at the Commission’s formal hearings. So much for respecting the work of the Commission, its measured recommendations and careful considerations!

Many political observers are beginning to question whether difficult social and economic issues can be prosecuted in the current partisan climate that characterises federal politics. In other words, are issues quickly dismissed because they are difficult or they don’t easily play into the strategic narrative one side, or both, of politics choose to tell? Is the notion of a national redress scheme facing the same fate?


Redress Royal Commission hearing, consultations wind-up,
Rockhampton and Lateline
Francis Sullivan
30 March 2015

Royal Commission redress public hearing

This week I gave evidence to the Royal Commission in Sydney on the Church’s redress and civil litigation submission.

I also spent a day and half listening to others including survivor support groups, governments, other institutions such as the YMCA and other churches talk about redress for child abuse survivors.

It was clear both from the submissions I’ve read and what I’ve heard that most support a government-run, independent scheme which determines redress which is then paid by the organisation responsible.

I, along with many others, was disappointed to see the Federal Government, in a very brief two and a half page submission, does not support a national redress scheme, arguing it’s too costly and too complicated to implement.

It’s surprising the Commonwealth, which set up the Royal Commission, has so quickly removed itself from any involvement in the fundamental issue of developing and operating fair and generous redress scheme.

It is surprising and very disappointing, but I’m hopeful when the final decision is made, ideally around the Cabinet table, that wiser and more compassionate heads might prevail and the Commonwealth will accept it has a role and plays its part.

Community Consultation

It’s over 12 months since the Council and the National Committee for Professional Standards drafted the reform discussion paper: Ensuring a Safe Church for Children and Vulnerable People. We’ve now finished our scheduled consultations and I hope to meet with a few more groups in the weeks ahead.

It’s been enormously helpful to hear from people at the coal face, Church leaders and many others about the ideas in the discussion paper.

We heard from more than 300 people who came to forums in Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

A report on the consultations will be delivered to the Council in early April, and the final draft will go to the Supervisory Group shortly afterwards.

It is hoped the final report, which will include a business plan, will be signed off by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in November, ready to be rolled-out early in 2016

Rockhampton Royal Commission Hearing

Last week I was in Rockhampton ahead of the Royal Commission hearing which starts mid-April into the St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol.

It was valuable to meet with more than 120 local teachers, principals, priests and others to talk about how the hearing is likely to unfold and what the Catholic and broader community can expect to hear.

Both local Bishop Michael McCarthy and the head of the Mercy Sisters, Bernice Loch said that while the hearing will be extremely difficult for the survivors who will give evidence it is important that they have every opportunity to tell their stories, be listened to and be believed.


During an interview with Tony Jones on Lateline this week to talk about our redress proposal I was asked about comments Bishop Bill Wright made in a local Newcastle article.

I said that when Bishop Wright referred to some critics as ’the usual suspects’ that it was not language I would have used and it might be helpful if he explained what he meant.

While I stand by these comments it is important to add Bishop Wright has been a long-time supporter and advocate both within the Church and beyond for changes to the way the Church approaches the issues of child sexual abuse.

He has been a strong supporter of  Zimmerman Services in Newcastle which is used to help local survivors of clerical abuse and I understand the changes he has put in place and the support he has given is broadly supported.

The language we use when we are talking about child sexual abuse is very important. It is sometimes the case that something said can, rightly or wrongly, be interpreted as something else entirely. This has happened to me in the past and it will probably happen again.

Bill Wright is on the Truth Justice and Healing Council and I know for a fact that he is very much part of the solution. Without his active advocacy for reform among his fellow church leaders the work we are doing would be much harder.

As we continue to confront the church’s child sexual abuse history and put in place the changes needed to ensure survivors are treated fairly and compassionately there will be mistakes made and wrong reins pulled.

We need to acknowledge these mistakes, fix them and then continue to do what we know is the right thing.



Redress hearing commences in Sydney next week
Francis Sullivan
18 March 2015

This week the Royal Commission announced it will hold a public hearing, starting next Wednesday in Sydney, into possible redress schemes for survivors of child sexual abuse.

To me, the issue of redress is at the very heart of the Commission’s work and this hearing will be a significant milestone along the path to delivering justice for abuse survivors.

The hearing will see institutions, including the Catholic Church and governments, talk about what they think fair and compassionate redress for survivors of child sexual abuse should look like.

During the hearing we will hopefully hear from all governments, most for the first time, on how they intend to approach redress for survivors abused in government-run homes, orphanages and other institutions.

The Commission’s preferred option, which is broadly in line with the proposal put by the Church last year, is for a single national redress scheme led by Australian Governments funded by the institutions responsible for the abuse.

The scheme would also provide counselling, psychological care and other services, again, paid for by the responsible institutions.

Importantly a scheme like this will ensure all survivors receive redress based on the same criteria and conditions, determined independently using the same set of standards and administered with limited costs and easy access regardless of where, when or who they were abused by.

It would effectively see, for the first time in Australia and perhaps anywhere in the world, consistent, easy access to redress available to all survivors of child sexual abuse.

Royal Commission out-of-home care hearing in Sydney

It has been disturbing listening to the narratives describing the trauma experienced by children over the past two weeks in the Commission’s hearing into out-of-home care. 

Lack of funding, insufficient staff numbers and failures in systems, policies and practices have all seemed to have played a part in the abuse of, according to the Commission, many thousands of children who have been abused in out of home care.

This hearing is an opportunity for the leaders of government and non-government out of home care agencies to gather together and discuss the issues, highlight the problems, and discover best practice for the greatest care of children they look after.

The out-of-home care hearing will conclude this week. Transcripts and updates from the hearing are on our website.

Consultation Forums

We are at the halfway point in our national consultation forums.

So far discussions have been lively and enlightening. Participants, representing various parts of the Church, and in some cases survivors, have talked passionately about their experience and what they believe is needed to make Church institutions safe places for children and vulnerable people.

After the consultation period and collection of information the Council will report to the Supervisory Group on progress and any outstanding issues requiring further considerations.

This week we have two forums in Sydney and next week Brisbane before the final forum in Melbourne.

Archbishop Wilson

This week a charge was laid against the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, relating to the concealment of child sexual abuse information when he was a young priest in the NSW Hunter region in the 1970s.

In a statement Archbishop Wilson has denied the allegations and says he will strenuously defend himself. He has reaffirmed in his statement his commitment to dealing proactively with the issue of child sexual abuse and expressed his deep sorrow for the devastating impact of clerical sex abuse on victims and their families.

Archbishop Wilson appeared in one of our earlier Royal Commission Public Hearings involving the long and at times extremely difficult process of having a priest in the Wollongong diocese laicised.

He, along with current Wollongong Bishop, Peter Ingham, spent the best part of a decade working tirelessly to have John Nestor, who both considered a threat to children, removed from the priesthood.  The final report from the Royal Commission in the Nestor case study reflected positively on the way Archbishop Wilson and Bishop Ingham had worked hard to have Nestor removed from the priesthood.

In the face of the current allegations, Archbishop Wilson has taken leave from his position in Adelaide and has also removed himself from the group of Bishops and religious leaders to whom the Truth Justice and Healing Council makes its recommendations.

The charge against Archbishop Wilson is very serious and is likely to take some time to progress through the courts. It is important he, like anyone else, is afforded the presumption of innocence and given every opportunity to defend himself.


Out-of-home care hearing opens in Sydney this week
Francis Sullivan
13 March 2015 

The Royal Commission’s 24th public hearing began in Sydney this week examining the issue of child sex abuse in out-of-home care. 

When children are placed in out-of-home care it is hoped a new roof over their head will also mean a better life. 

For many, tragically this is not the case with the Royal Commission hearing this week that 40 per cent of the 3000 survivors of child sexual abuse, who have spoken to the Commission during private hearings, were abused in out-of-home care, mostly in the 1950s and 60s. 

This is the Royal Commission’s first policy-focused public hearing, and it is the first time survivors who have been abused will not directly be part of a hearing.

The Royal Commission will instead hear evidence from a range of expert witnesses with experience in the sector. These include representatives from each of the state and territory governments as well as non-government out-of-home care providers.

Catholic organisations, including Mary Mackillop Family Services, Marymead Child and Family Services and CatholicCare Sydney will provide evidence about the successes and improvements that can be made to the way they care for hundreds of children not considered safe in their own families. 

Unlike previous case studies, there will be no findings made following this hearing. Evidence gathered during the hearing will be used by the Royal Commission to formulate an issues paper on out-of home care to be released for response following the hearing. 

I am writing this blog from Perth where I have been participating in the third of our national reform forums. We are meeting with representatives from dioceses and religious orders, schools, health and social services and parishioners, and in some cases, survivors of abuse. We are discussing options to develop a structure that will ensure children and vulnerable people are safe in Church institutions. 

So far the forums have been lively, productive and well attended with 25 participants in Canberra, 40 in Adelaide and 45 in Perth. 

The forums will continue in Tasmania this week.  While there I will also speak at the ‘Pints of Faith’ event organised by the Archdiocese of Hobart at the Hotel Soho. 

Similar to ‘Theology on Tap’ or ‘Spirituality in the Pub’, it's an opportunity to enjoy a meal, meet with locals and talk about the work of the Council and the Royal Commission. Everyone is welcome. 

Following Tasmania we have two forums in Sydney and one in Brisbane before the final forum in Melbourne.


Consultation forums begin in Canberra
Francis Sullivan
5 March 2015

The Truth Justice and Healing Council (TJHC) has just completed the first of eight forums consulting with the Church community on setting up a national standards setting and supervisory body for child protection and safeguards for vulnerable people in Catholic institutions.

The first forum, held in Canberra on Monday, saw 25 people from across the local church community meet to flesh out and discuss ideas on the best ways to deliver better accountability, transparency and consistency as we work to ensure all Church institutions are safe.

The starting point for these discussions has been a consultation paper developed and distributed widely throughout Catholic Church institutions. What the end proposal will look like when it is delivered to the Bishops and Religious Leaders mid-year is very much a work in progress and will be informed by what we hear over the coming month.

If the Canberra forum is anything to go by there are many people with strong views and ideas that will play a significant part in shaping the final recommendations.

By the end of this week we will have been to Adelaide and Perth. We will be in Hobart next week then Sydney the following week and Brisbane and Melbourne by the end of the month.

It was interesting that last weekend, just ahead of the start of our consultation forums, the Irish Church held a major conference hosted by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland which was established to set child protection standards, audit and report on them across the Irish Church.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, President of the Irish Bishops' Conference who opened the meeting, said the conference provided an opportunity to look back on where the Church in Ireland had come from and to assess its progress.

The conference was grounded on two underlying themes: the legacy of past failure, and the importance of safeguarding as a shared responsibility within the Church. It looked at three important issues in particular: a safeguarding culture; a One-Church approach; and, outreach to survivors.

As we go about consulting on a child protection body for Australia it is important to understand the types of reforms being considered are not unique.

In Europe, the UK, the US and Canada the Catholic Church is working to address the shadow of child sexual abuse with many countries now having independent whole-of-church child protectorate bodies. 

Chair of the Royal Commission, Peter McClellan, has indicated his interest in seeing how institutions are responding to what they are hearing from the Royal Commission.  Our national consultation process demonstrates that the Church is listening and is taking action.

Public hearings

As the forums are being rolled out throughout Australia we will also continue preparations for Royal Commission public hearings in Rockhampton and Ballarat.

On 14th March a public hearing will be held in Rockhampton focusing on the experiences of children at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol, and the conduct of priests attached to the Diocese who carried out duties at the orphanage.

The Commission will then travel to Ballarat in May, where it is understood further evidence of institutional sexual abuse, involving the Catholic Church, will be examined.

But before either of these hearings, on Tuesday next week a public hearing in Sydney will look at allegations of child sexual abuse and prevention strategies in out-of-home care.

This hearing isn’t focusing exclusively on the Catholic Church but will gather information from all State Government jurisdictions and around seven other major institutions.

During the hearing al the groups will be asked to outline their experience in the management and safety of children in Out-of-Home Care.

We also continue to develop our response to the Royal Commission’s Redress Paper due to be submitted next week.

With the consultations in full swing and preparations for public hearings underway, we must continue to be directed by the needs of survivors.

Everything we do, every discussion we have, every policy we develop must consider survivors and what is in their best interest. This is our focus and our priority. 


The first step towards national healing
Francis Sullivan
25 February 2015

The tragedy of child sex abuse in Australia has featured prominently in the media over the past week.

Desperate stories of children sexually assaulted in detention centres comes only weeks after the Forgotten Children Report was released by the Human Rights Commission outlining the incidence of sexual abuse in detention centres.

To add to the heartbreak, research by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education this week reveals that one in five Australian children have been affected by the drinking of others.

It is important that child sex abuse is widely covered by the media so that we have a full appreciation and understanding of the extent and scale of the problem.  The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearings has certainly drawn attention to the widespread problem within Institutions.

I am concerned that, with so much attention and exposure given to abuse cases, our sensitivity and understanding of the real and immediate needs of survivors may be diminished.

The extent of the problem within our community must drive us to work hand-in-hand with all levels of government, religious groups and other institutions to find practical solutions for survivors so they have the chance to live a rewarding and fulfilled life.

The scope of the Royal Commission does not include the alarming rate of child sex abuse in domestic and community settings. Regardless of this, as a country we must remain fully committed to addressing child sex abuse - wherever and whenever the abuse occurs.

The first opportunity we have to show our commitment to survivors is in our deliberations regarding a national redress scheme for people who have been sexually abused in institutional settings.

This will require an inclusive and cooperative approach from everyone. For too long survivors of child sex abuse have had to rely, either on the good will (or not) of institutions, or the precarious civil litigation system.

It is now time to develop a generous and fair national redress scheme so that, at the very least, survivors of child sex abuse can receive some justice. It is incumbent on everyone working together to agree on a scheme that will provide the best outcomes for survivors.

I know that many survivors hope the redress will go beyond sexual abuse and include, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. The government rejected this proposal by narrowing the Royal Commission’s terms of reference to sexual abuse in institutional settings.

If we can establish a national redress scheme, where survivors recognise that they can receive generous reparations for the tragic events in their life, then we have taken a step in the right direction.

A step that is indicative of our values and an important first step towards national healing.


Fair and Just redress - time for governments to act
Francis Sullivan
18 February 2015

While sharing lunch with around 40 survivors of child abuse at Lotus Place in Brisbane last week I was reminded, and deeply saddened, by the devastating, long-term impact of child abuse.

Lotus Place is a dedicated support service and resource centre for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants. Many of its clients were placed in Australian Catholic institutions in the 40s, 50s and 60s where they were abused and suffered terrible hardship.

The survivors, spoke about childhoods destroyed, relationships ruined and a life littered with pain, frustration and disappointment.

As I listened to their stories and accounts of their daily struggles it became brutally clear that a fair, compassionate and consistent compensation scheme for survivors of child sex abuse is urgently needed.

Many survivors I met are now in their sixties and seventies and they deserve to receive acknowledgement, support and compensation for their pain and suffering. In a quiet moment a survivor told me that even a small amount of financial support for her funeral would be a welcome start.

The Royal Commission last month released its consultation paper on redress schemes for survivors of child sex abuse. It will release its final recommendations mid-year.

The Commission’s preferred option is built on a national scheme run by the Commonwealth in which the investigation of abuse claims and determination of compensation is accessed independently of the accused institution.

When an award is made the institution responsible for the abuse will then be responsible for paying. This scheme would also provide for counselling, psychological care and other services, again, paid for by the responsible institution.

Understandably, the community and survivors do not trust institutions to fairly examine and investigate themselves. The Catholic Church fully acknowledges that the days of the Church investigating itself are over. 

This preferred Royal Commission redress scheme is largely consistent with the Church’s proposal outlined in its submission to the Royal Commission in June last year.

All survivors of child sex abuse deserve an equal opportunity to access redress irrespective of where or when they were abused, or in what institution.

Tragically, a scheme like this will not eventuate without the support of our law makers, both state and federal.

It is now the responsibility of governments to take a stand on behalf of the community and implement an independent redress scheme for all survivors. 

Anything less will not achieve the independence and transparency that survivors deserve and the Commission has called for.

I challenge any government minister or bureaucrat, before making a decision on how they will respond to the Royal Commission’s consultation paper on redress, to spend time with survivors and hear first hand their devastating stories.

There are support services like Lotus Place across the country. 

If just a few of the government decision makers took time out to visit one, then I’m sure many of their concerns about establishing a national compensation scheme would take second place to the need to address the tragedy, pain and suffering of those people living with the impact of child sexual abuse.

Their stories are difficult to hear, but absolutely vital to understand.


From Rhetoric to Action - Pope Francis
Francis Sullivan
11 February 2015

Catholic Church fully supports redress and civil litigatioconsultation paper 
Francis Sullivan
4 February 2015

Putting people first
Francis Sullivan
28 January 2015

Secrecy of child abuse exposed
Francis Sullivan
22 January 2015

Release of the Activity Report
Francis Sullivan
16 December 2014

Working together to develop a national redress scheme
Francis Sullivan
9 December 2014

Establishing an independent body to handle complaints
Francis sullivan
3 December 2014 

Church leaders supporting change 
Francis Sullivan
27 November 2014

Time for the people of the Church
Francis Sullivan
20 November 2014

The Changing Church
Francis Sullivan
13 November 2014

Meeting Catholics across the country
Francis Sullivan
5 November 2014

The issue of child sex abuse increasingly prominent
Francis Sullivan
29 October 2014

Royal Commission ignites action 
Francis Sullivan
22 October 2014

Police Integrity Commission investigates relationship
between the NSW Police and the Church
Francis Sullivan
14 October 2014

The culture of discretion - in conversation with 
Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge
Francis Sullivan
8 October 2014

Focusing on what matters; a US perspective 
Francis Sullivan and Dr Kathleen McChesney
2 October 2014 

A Changing Church
Francis Sulivan
22 September 2014

Catholic Communities speak out
Francis Sullivan
14 September 2014

Royal Commission granted two-year extension

Francis Sullivan
4 September 2014 

The Church as Family
Francis Sullivan
28 August 2014 

Melbourne Response Hearing Begins
Francis Sullivan
21 August 2014

A National Victims’ Redress Scheme 

Francis Sullivan
13 August 2014

Local parishes encouraged to reach out

Francis Sullivan
7 August 2014

Reforming the Church
Francis Sullivan
30 July 2014 

Moving into the Future
Francis Sullivan
23 July 2014

Making it Happen
Francis Sullivan
16 July 2014 

Governments and Institutions must act now
Francis Sullivan 
8 July 2014 

Royal Commission tables first Interim Report
Francis Sullivan
2 July 2014

Wollongong hearing begins 
Francis Sullivan
26 June 2014

Working with Children Check
Francis Sullivan
18 June 2014

Marist Brothers Explain the Past
Francis Sullivan
11 June 2014

Challenging Church Traditions
Francis Sullivan
4 June 2014

Marist Brothers at the Royal Commission
Francis Sullivan
28 May 2014

Universally Protecting Children
Francis Sullivan
20 May 2014 

The Church responding to the Royal Commission
Francis Sulivan
13 May 2014 

The Need for a National Compensation Scheme
Francis Sulliivan
7 May 2014 

Perth Hearing begins
Francis Sullivan
29 April 2014

Breaking Down Barriers
Francis Sullivan
14 April 2014

Confidence in the Commission
Francis Sullivan
9 April 2014

Honestly and openly facing the Royal Commission
Francis Sullivan
3 April 2014

Working harder for change
Francis Sullivan
26 March 2014

Is litigation the answer for survivors of child sex abuse?
Francis Sullivan
20 March 2014

Major reform pushes to open Church organisations up to being sued
Francis Sullivan 11 March 2014

John Ellis Case
Francis Sullivan 6 March 2014

 Toowoomba hearing ends in Brisbane
Francis Sullivan 27 February 2014   

Better safety and protection for our children
Francis Sullivan 19 February 2014

Get Involved
Francis Sullivan 11 February 2014

Communicating Life
Francis Sullivan 4 February 2014

2014 A Year for Action
Francis Sullivan 29 January 2014

Taking Notice and Taking Action
Francis Sullivan 23 December 2013

Cogs for Change are Turning
Francis Sullivan 18 December 2013

Towards Healing Under the Spotlight
Francis Sullivan 11 December 2013

The Truth Will Bind Us
Francis Sullivan 3 December 2013

Searching for Justice and Peace in Ballarat
Francis Sullivan 26 November 2013

Momentum for compensation change
Francis Sullivan 21 November 2013

Sharing the Sorrow
Francis Sullivan 12 November 2013

Rescuing the Future
Francis Sullivan 5 November 2013

That was then but the suffering is still now
Francis Sullivan 28 October 2013

A Time for Renewal and Forgiveness
Francis Sullivan 23 October 2013

Understanding the Memorandum
Francis Sullivan 15 October 2013

A new approach
Francis Sullivan 10 October 2013 

The Catholic Church, sexual abuse and a new agenda
Francis Sullivan 3 October 2013

Igniting Humble Leadership
Francis Sullivan 3 October 2013

Healing the wounds
Francis Sullivan 25 September 2013

The bearing of witness
Francis Sullivan 17 September 2013

Picking up the Pieces
Francis Sullivan 11 September 2013

Action and Achievement
Francis Sullivan 4 September 2013

Protecting Children is everyone's business.
Francis Sullivan 3 September 2013

Keeping the Faith
Francis Sullivan 27 August 2013

Taking Sides
Blog by TJH Council Member Maria Harries
20 August 2013

Who is looking after the children
Francis Sullivan 20 August 2013

Towards Healing - from here to there
Francis Sullivan 14 August 2013

The truth can set us free
Francis Sullivan 7 August 2013

Learning from the past for a better future
Francis Sullivan 31 July 2013

Towards a greater healing
Francis Sullivan 24 July 2013

Building Reconcilliation
Francis Sullivan 16 July 2013

We are the Church
Francis Sullivan July 2013

Building Bridges
Francis Sullivan July 2013

Line in the sand
Francis Sullivan June 2013

Not such a gentle silence
Francis Sullivan June 2013

Looking for answers
Francis Sullivan  June 2013

Actions Speak Louder than Words
Francis Sullivan May 2013

Redemptorist Retreat Galong, St Charles Ryde and Catholic Religious Australia
Francis Sullivan May 2013

Cairns and Wollongong 
Francis Sullivan May 2013

Catechists Conference Canberra
Francis Sullivan May 2013

Meetings in WA and the Biannual Bishops Conference
Francis Sullivan May 2013

Meetings in Townsville and introduction to the Website and Blog
Francis Sullivan April 2013




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