Illawarra Mercury

'Hurting', not healing

Date: 21/12/2013
Words: 832
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: News
Page: 14
TRUTH, justice, compassion and healing are words heard often at the latest public hearing of the royal commission into child sex abuse.

Just as one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, it turns out that one person's truth and justice is another's screaming nightmare.

Four people who suffered sex abuse in childhood by Catholic priests and Marist brothers and who told their stories at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the past two weeks have been through personal purgatory in the form of the Catholic Church's healing process.

The latest case studies by the commission relate to how Towards Healing - an internal protocol set up by the church in the mid-1990s to deal with sex abuse allegations - dealt with victims.

"I call it Towards Hurting," said a 49-year-old man identified as DK, who spent six years at a Marist Brothers boarding school in Cairns.

His clear, unwavering narrative brought the 11-year-old scared child of 1976 into the hearing room at Macquarie Tower, Sydney. He was beaten and abused during his time at St Augustine's College but his great hurt and betrayal came when a brother he thought was an ally drunkenly molested him in 1981.

That man, Brother Ross Murrin, was later jailed for sex abuse against children at schools in Sydney.

When the bishops created Towards Healing, the emphasis was on a pastoral, compassionate response to deeply hurt victims still suffering because of childhood trauma.

For DK, as well as another person identified as DG, Joan Isaacs and Jennifer Ingham, who all went through Towards Healing, justice and therefore healing meant being believed, confronting people who stole innocence and hearing contrition - genuinely felt and sincerely offered by senior clergy.

This hearing makes it clear that for the Catholic Church, justice meant making sure whatever cash had to be paid out did not dent multimillion-dollar reserves or multibillion-dollar assets.

Each case was different. Some people had meetings they had requested, others didn't and the compensation payouts varied greatly. Payments were based on levels of panic or empathy by church negotiators. Mostly, they depended on the influence of insurance lawyers.

In the case of the Marist Brothers, the first call once a complaint was received was always the Catholic Church Insurance Ltd lawyers. This was the case in 2010, when DK went through what Brother Alexis Turton, the man who managed the process, was forced to admit was a bastardised version of Towards Healing.

The real haggling about money went on outside mediation but it always cast a shadow over that pastoral process.

In the case of Joan Isaacs, who at 14 and 15 was emotionally and sexually abused by Father Frank Derriman, Towards Healing was a two-year nightmare.

"I really wanted to believe that the church meant what it said, which was 'Towards Healing is here, come to us, we know you have been hurt, we want to help'."

But that was not her experience. She felt disbelieved, was denied a full apology for fear it would be an admission of liability, and when, in exhaustion, she accepted a $30,000 settlement, it came with a confidentiality clause that silenced her.

The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, wrote to her lifting that ban 12 years after it had been imposed. That showed progress - it took the Catholic Church 500 years to lift the ban on Galileo.

Evidence to the commission from Archbishop Coleridge, who has been in the Brisbane role for 18 months, was like entering clear air after wandering lost in a fog of obfuscation, unctuous piety and a lot of pain.

He told the commission that he accepted Ms Isaacs' response to his letter, which she had felt was too little too late.

He agreed with her that confidentiality agreements were like the "constraints or intimidations of the abuser" and should never have been imposed.

The archbishop's frank assessment of how Towards Healing was put together in the 1990s, because people were caught like rabbits in the headlights of sex abuse revelations, rang true for those who had gone through the early iteration of the process.

"They didn't know how to respond," he said.

When seemingly trusted professionals such as lawyers or insurers came forward saying "this is the way forward", the church breathed a sigh of relief.

But they should not run the process, Archbishop Coleridge said. He is on a council that is reforming Towards Healing.

What was most refreshing about the archbishop's evidence was when he noted the powerful interplay of personal and communal culpability when it came to sex abuse.

Those at the hearing saw church witnesses bob and weave around institutional responsibility.

"But is the church - whatever we mean by the church - responsible for the criminal, sinful, immoral actions of Frank Derriman?" mused Dr Adrian Farrelly, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, when questioned by commission chair Justice Peter McClellan.

Archbishop Coleridge did not muse - he said the church shared responsibility because its culture was part of the mix. AAP

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