It is intriguing that when the topic here is the sexual abuse of children that some would like to silence or restrict that!!! Why is that?
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  Home :: 2006 July :: Abuse of Trust: Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches
Sunday 14 April  2002
Produced by Chris Bullock

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Program Transcript

Chris Bullock: Hello, this is Background Briefing on ABC Radio National. I'm Chris Bullock.

Those great Christian institutions, the Catholic and Anglican churches are being consumed by their own secrets.


Chris Bullock: Almost daily, new stories emerge about the long and hidden history of sexual abuse in the churches, especially against children. And all over the world, the victims are calling churches to account.

Denver Archbishop: Nothing can diminish the suffering of the victims of sexual misconduct in the church, or explain away the seriousness of the sin, especially when the sin is committed against a child. No apology is adequate, but I do apologise sincerely and humbly on behalf of myself and our priests for any hurt inflicted on our people over the years by clergy or lay employees of the archdiocese.

Chris Bullock: Apologies like that from the Catholic Archbishop of Denver in the United States, may not be enough to stem the loss of moral authority brought on by a history of denial and deceit on child sexual abuse.

In the United States alone, 2,000 Catholic priests have been disgraced because of their abusing behaviour, and in Ireland, where the Catholic church has already promised more than $200-million in compensation for victims, there is now to be a State inquiry. In Australia, more than 100 clergy from the Catholic and Anglican churches have been convicted of child sexual abuse in the past five years.

The Anglican Primate of Australia has acknowledged that compensation claims could bankrupt churches in Australia, just as they have done in Canada.

"If the church were to be hit with a lot of legal cases and it just didn't have the money to finance them, then I think there would be no alternative than to go bust."

Peter Carnley: It's certainly thinkable. And the diocese of Caribou in Canada, actually went out of existence; it had to just close down because it had no resources any more, it had to pay them all away. So I think if that can happen somewhere, it can happen here as well. If the church were to be hit with a lot of legal cases and it just didn't have the money to finance them, then I think there would be no alternative than to go bust.

Chris Bullock: The Anglican Archbishop of Perth and the head of the Church in Australia, Peter Carnley.

In Queensland the Anglican church is facing a financial battering, with dozens of abuse victims suing the church, most of them former students at Anglican schools. There was an alarming precedent for the church at the end of last year, when one former student of the Toowoomba Prep School was awarded $830,000 in damages. And now the Anglican Boys Grammar School in Brisbane is contacting all 20,000 past and present students, asking if they were ever abused.

It is a decade since the first wave of serious complaints of child sexual abuse emerged from the churches in Australia, and the fact they've just kept coming is testament to the extraordinary extent of the problem.

The churches knew about the behaviour of some of their clergy and other workers.

Patrick Parkinson: In all the cases I know about in the past, there has been an approach of dealing with it as a spiritual matter, this man may have sinned, or needs help, but there was no awareness I think of the seriousness of the problems they were dealing with, or what might happen if all this got out into the public domain. One of the things was I believe, that Christians wouldn't do this kind of thing. Christians commit little sins, but we don't commit the really big ones, and sexual abuse of a child is a big sin. So that was one reason why they didn't deal with it. I think too, there was a clerical culture in some churches of protection of the clergy, and therefore an unwillingness to accept that this could be true.

Chris Bullock: Professor of Law, Professor Patrick Parkinson, from the University of Sydney. Author of the book 'Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches'.

In Australia, what had been hidden behind the closed doors of the church became public in the early 1990s, and it followed a decade of growing community awareness.

Patrick Parkinson: I think the awareness of sexual abuse in the church began with the awareness of sexual abuse in the community, and one can date that back to the late '70s, early '80s, and once you begin to talk about these issues on television, and in women's magazines and so on, it gives people a freedom to begin to talk about their own experiences, which have been deeply hidden and kept secret. And so stories began to tumble out about abuse by clergy, first of all in the United States and Canada, but then gradually around the rest of the world as well. And as people began to talk about those things, as the police began to prosecute, so there was an increasing awareness that the churches in Australia had a problem.

Chris Bullock: Until then, Patrick Parkinson says the churches had been keen to forgive offenders, without seeking to understand why they offended.

"There was a fundamental confusion between forgiveness and trust. You could forgive somebody, that doesn't mean you have to trust them, and in particular it doesn't mean you have to trust them working with children. "

Patrick Parkinson: The biggest problem in the last 30 or 40 years has been the church has been naïve about child sexual abuse. There's been a lack of awareness of the compulsive nature of much offending behaviour, a belief that if you just prayed with somebody and they sought forgiveness and you asked God for help, that somehow that would sort out all the problems. But there was a fundamental confusion between forgiveness and trust. You could forgive somebody, that doesn't mean you have to trust them, and in particular it doesn't mean you have to trust them working with children. And if the victim forgave the offender, then that was the end of the matter, and there was this tendency to let the person continue in ministry in the belief that it wouldn't happen again. The problem was that frequently it did happen again and again, and again after that.

Chris Bullock: At the heart of the current scandal in several countries is the question, Did church inaction go beyond denial, to deliberate cover-up?

The Director of the Centre for the Study of American Catholicism, at Notre Dame University, Scott Appleby.

Scott Appleby: This is a scandal that goes far beyond the terrible evil of sexual misconduct by a tiny minority of priests, because it sheds light upon the mismanagement of some bishops over the scandal that goes from reappointing priests who they knew or suspected of sexual misconduct, to pastoral ministry, and also some terrible stories of minimising victims' stories about that sexual abuse, so there's the suspicion there that there is at worst, a failure in moral character on the part of some of the bishops and priests in the church, and at best, a sense that they just didn't get it when the first wave of scandals hit in the '80s and '90s.

Chris Bullock: Scott Appleby, speaking on PBS Television in the United States.


Chris Bullock: Whether churches engaged in denial or deliberate deceit, the fact is that in many cases what was being hidden was a crime. Now, in the US, for example, the Catholic church is accused of bribing some victims, to keep them quiet; and in Ireland, one of the country's top bishops has quit amid allegations he protected a priest whom he knew had sexually assaulted dozens of boys. And in Australia, the Governor-General, Dr Hollingworth, has acknowledged he mishandled sexual abuse complaints whilst he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane.

The Hollingworth controversy prompted the Prime Minister, John Howard, to raise the possibility of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, a move favoured by Melbourne lawyer, David Forster.

David Forster: In my view, you have to have firstly a Royal Commission established by the Federal government to look at the sexual abuse issue within Australia, specifically within the religious community. You need a church ombudsman appointed by individual State governments who reports to parliament, so you have transparency. And thirdly you need adequate resources.

Chris Bullock: David Forster says a Royal Commission should focus on the allegations of church cover-up.

"I believe there needs to be an investigation... as to whether any religious leaders have conspired to pervert the course of justice, and taken steps to deliberately cover up a criminal offence."

David Forster: In the terms of that Royal Commission, I believe there needs to be an investigation. Those terms of reference need to include an investigation as to whether any religious leaders have conspired to pervert the course of justice, and taken steps to deliberately cover up a criminal offence.

Chris Bullock: David Forster has represented over a hundred sexual abuse victims, both Catholic and Anglican, and he believes there is plenty of evidence to suggest churches chose to ignore the criminal behaviour of some of their priests.

Forster uses the example of a Catholic priest from Victoria, Father Kevin O'Donnell. A priest for 50 years, O'Donnell was jailed for sexually abusing boys and girls aged between 8 and 14 years old over a 30 year period from the 1940s to the 1970s. And there were more complaints about O'Donnell right up to the 1990s.

David Forster: My recollection is that he received a jail term of approximately three years, and I'm aware of very senior people in positions of authority in the church being aware of abuse by that priest in the 1970s, and in the 1990s. My first victim of that priest was in 1946 and if you look at the parish historical record of the parish of Dandenong, it referred to, 'there was hardly ever a day when you wouldn't see Father O'Donnell with his head under the roof of a VW car surrounded by children'. And he was voracious in his appetite. He was a very entrepreneurial priest, he made a lot of money for the church and he was able to go on his merry way and abuse children, and I would have to say that from my experience, I would estimate that he would have abused up to 2,000 children.

Chris Bullock: And the leaders of the church in Victoria at the time knew about that and allowed it to continue?

David Forster: All I will say is that I'm aware of persons in a very senior position in the Catholic church being aware of his activity and failing to take appropriate steps.

Chris Bullock: Father Kevin O'Donnell has since died, which makes it harder for any more victims to prove he abused them. And it is often the case that by the time victims decide they want to make an official complaint, the alleged offender has died.

At the moment David Forster is acting for Peter O'Flaherty, who says he was the victim of an Anglican priest in the diocese of Bendigo 30 years ago. The priest has since died, but Peter O'Flaherty is now suing the current Bishop of Bendigo for the inaction of the diocese in the past.

O'Flaherty says he was sexually assaulted once or twice a week by the priest over a period of about six years, starting when he was about 10. His father had complained to the priest's superior about the abuse, but nothing was done, and the abuse continued for another 3 years.

Background Briefing spoke by phone to Peter O'Flaherty at his workshop in country Victoria.

Peter O'Flaherty: When it's happening you are a child and I think you lock the thoughts away at the time and those thoughts stay very childish within your mind, you don't mature those thoughts at all. When you do come back to them, you just brush them aside, because you don't want to face up to them, it's just a guilt that you carry and you hide away.

Chris Bullock: And at the time of the abuse, did you know whether other people were going through what you were going through?

Peter O'Flaherty: No, I felt very alone. I knew of one other person for sure. Because of the treatment of him, I did feel very alone, I felt as though I couldn't talk to anyone about it.

Chris Bullock: What do you mean by the treatment of him?

Peter O'Flaherty: The way the church treated him. He no longer went to the church again, he was sort of told not to come back. The way his father more so, his mother was nice, but his father treated him as if he was a dirty little poofter. Yes, it was a very lonely time. You couldn't talk about it to anyone.

Chris Bullock: And what's your expectation for the outcome of this case for you?

Peter O'Flaherty: The way the church goes I don't know that there will be an outcome from the church. I'm just getting closure for myself by going through with it I believe.

Chris Bullock: Can you describe more what you mean by closure?

"I want the church to start treating them as criminals, not protecting them. To advertise the whole thing."

Peter O'Flaherty: Settling it in my mind, settling it with my family, resolving it in my mind. I want it advertised, I want to the church to be made aware, I want the church to start treating them as criminals, not protecting them. To advertise the whole thing.

Chris Bullock: The problem of child sexual abuse has been swept under the carpet for centuries, in all walks of life. It only began getting an airing as a result of the social revolution of the late '60s and early '70s. But the churches, like other groups, had no rules or guidelines to work with, it was treated as a taboo rather than a crime. The priest was told, 'Don't do it', and was then moved away. There was no understanding that this was in many cases compulsive behaviour and there would be new victims in a new location.

Through inaction, the churches actually encouraged abuse. Clinical Psychologist Dr Gerardine Taylor uses the analogy of an alcoholic.

Gerardine Taylor: If, say, a man in a family is alcoholic and his wife is the enabler, she's the one that goes out and buys the alcohol for him. Then the whole system is sick, and I think one of the things that is important when you have inaction, is to look at how the system colludes with that behaviour. When the behaviour isn't addressed directly and swiftly, what the perpetrator does learn is that in some ways he can get away with it, if you like. It's a criminal behaviour, therefore it has to be done in secret, and it can only keep happening if the system doesn't address it at a systems level.

Chris Bullock: Dr Gerardine Taylor, speaking in her office at Encompass, where she's the Clinical Director of an Assessment and Treatment Centre for Sex Offenders. Encompass was set up four years ago by the Catholic church in Australia, as part of a system to deal with child sexual abuse.

The commonly used term, paedophile, is a slippery one. It can have different meanings, depending on whether it's used in a medical, or legal or media context. From Greek, meaning 'love of a child', it refers to a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. Sexual attraction to post-pubescent children, teenagers, is called Ephebophilia, meaning 'love of a youth'. But commonly paedophile is used to describe anyone who repeatedly sexually abuses a minor.

These days paedophilia is considered a psychiatric disorder and treating it is difficult, because you have to convince paedophiles to manage their sexual fantasies.

Gerardine Taylor: Paedophilia, like all paraphilias, is not curable. It's a little bit like diabetes. Once you're diagnosed as diabetic, the only way that you can live a healthy and productive lifestyle is to take your insulin at regular intervals, to eat regular meals and to have a healthy diet and exercise. With the paedophile, they will always be sexually aroused by children, so it's important that they understand that that is a fact that for the rest of their life they will notice children, they will be around children even if it's at a distance, and that they need to learn to manage their fantasies and manage their behaviour so that there are no more victims.


Chris Bullock: The statistics don't show that paedophiles are more likely to be found in the churches than in the rest of the community. But there is evidence to suggest the Catholic church has a unique problem. Patrick Parkinson.

Patrick Parkinson: It is clear that that there are far more offenders against children in the Catholic church, far more priests have been convicted of child sexual abuse and that the patterns of abuse are different in the Catholic church from the rest of the community. For example, the tendency is when cases emerge in the Catholic church for there to be abuse of teenage boys, 13 or 14 year old boys. In the general community it is more likely that the offenders will target girls, and they'll be of a younger age. So we're seeing from the research studies something very different about the patterns of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

Chris Bullock: This same sex offending against young teenage boys is a sensitive topic in the Catholic church, because it raises two big points of contention: homosexuality and celibacy.

Some in the church believe the higher rate of offending against young teenage boys reflects a growing gay priesthood although there is no evidence that gay men are more likely to sexually abuse children. There is also a view that sexual abuse may be the result of repressed sexuality, brought about the requirement for celibacy. But this is rejected by Geradine Taylor.

Gerardine Taylor: One of the most common things that you hear is that there is a higher incidence of paedophilia in the Catholic church and that it's attributable to celibacy. In fact that's not the case because we know, psychologically speaking, that a paraphilia of which paedophilia is one paraphilia, develops in childhood, and first becomes evident in adolescence then in early adulthood, that's when the person will begin to act out the sexual arousal and the sexual behaviour in adolescence and then adulthood. So it actually begins, has its aetiology in childhood. In our faith tradition, the Catholic church, men and women don't choose celibacy until they're in their late teens and then these days it's usually their twenties. So the paraphilia is established by then, so it's not in any way causally related to a choice of celibacy.

Chris Bullock: Many believe the strongest connection between celibacy and child sexual abuse is through the culture of secrecy that comes with celibacy. Priests aren't supposed to have sex, full stop, with adults or children.

In The New York Times, author and critic Jason Berry wrote a stinging critique of celibacy in the Catholic churches. This is a reading:

    Celibacy has given rise to a secretive culture in which sexual behaviour in any form must be hidden. It was to conceal sexual activity in a culture of celibacy that many cardinals and bishops resorted to deception and dishonesty, even about crimes committed by priests.

    Conservatives and liberals alike should acknowledge that sexual secrecy is destroying the church, and one way to save it would be to make celibacy optional. Pope John Paul II's failure to confront the pathology of sexual secrecy is his papacy's deepest flaw.

    The requirement of celibacy is not dogma; it is an ecclesiastical law that was adopted in the Middle Ages because Rome was worried that clerics' children would inherit church property and create dynasties. Now the church is selling property to pay for the abuse scandal.

Chris Bullock: There's no indication from Rome that the vow of celibacy is up for review. The Vatican blames the child sexual abuse scandal on the evil betrayal of some priests. This is a reading from a recent Papal statement

    As priests we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the mystery of evil. Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice.

Chris Bullock: It is what the Pope calls the 'dark shadow of suspicion cast over all priests that may be most damaging to the church. This is the dark shadow of mistrust.

Paedophiles in general, not just those in the clergy, depend on their positions of authority and trust to get close to children, and priests are in a unique position.

"One man when he was a boy was told, 'What I'm doing with you is not a sin, but if you ever tell anybody, that will be a sin.'"

Patrick Parkinson: Many priests and ministers are in a position of extraordinary power. And it is a subtle form of power; it is the power of their moral authority. The number of times I've come across victims of child sexual abuse in churches who were told that 'It's OK, because I'm a priest', one man when he was a boy was told, 'What I'm doing with you is not a sin, but if you ever tell anybody, that will be a sin.' So it is the power to define what is right and what is wrong to young children, it is the power of the authority and influence they have.

Chris Bullock: Patrick Parkinson says the extraordinary betrayal of trust by offending priests needs to be reflected in the punishment handed out by the church and by the criminal courts. And it is something that has just been taken up by the highest court in the land.

Vincent Ryan, a Catholic priest from New South Wales, appealed to the High Court over the severity of his sentence, a minimum prison term of 11 years, for dozens of offences against boys aged from 6 to 14. Vincent Ryan had been warned by the church as far back as 1975 that his abuse of children must stop, and he should seek treatment. But his offending continued for another 15 years.

In appealing his sentence, Vincent Ryan argued his otherwise good character and good work as a priest should have reduced the sentence. He appealed first to the Supreme Court and lost, then he went to the High Court.

As a general principle of sentencing, having a good reputation and good character references should reduce the length of the sentence. The five High Court judges had to decide if Ryan's abuse of his position of trust and reputation outweighed everything else.

One of the judges, Justice Hayne, wrote:

    The fact that this offender was to outward appearances, a devoted minister to his adult parishioners is admirable. But he was able to secure the trust of his victims and their parents, because he was thought to be worthy of respect.

Chris Bullock: In other words, Justice Hayne wrote:

    Only because he had worked with his adult parishioners in the way he had, was he afforded the trust, respect, position in the community which were essential to continuing his wrongdoing.

Chris Bullock: In the end, the five judges decided 3-2, to grant Vincent Ryan's appeal. The majority view was that despite the enormity of Ryan's breach of trust, the original sentencing judge had been wrong when he said Ryan's otherwise 'unblemished character and reputation did not entitle him to any leniency whatsoever.'

One of the majority judges, Justice McHugh, did acknowledge that child sexual abuse cases present a new challenge to the High Court, and again this is a reading from the High Court transcript.

    Undoubtedly, the whole issue of the correct approach to sentencing and dealing with paedophiles is of great importance. Sooner or later, it will have to be addressed by this court.


Chris Bullock: Of course it is still the case that the vast majority of complaints about clergy sexual abuse don't result in a conviction, don't even make it to court. Often the alleged offender is dead, or there is insufficient evidence, or the victim doesn't want to go through the court process.

The Catholic church in Australia started developing procedures to deal with complaints in the late 1980s, when the first complaints started trickling in. But it wasn't until the lid came off that the church was forced to develop a consistent national set of procedures. Patrick Parkinson.

Patrick Parkinson: The church realised it had a huge problem and it had a huge problem of credibility. And it wanted to restore its good name. The motivation for the Catholic procedures which were called towards healing in 1996, were to respond to victims. They were not concerned with the punishment of offenders. That was a secondary issue. They wanted to reach out a hand to victims and to provide some support for them.

Chris Bullock: The Towards Healing process was set up in 1996, and then updated in 2000 after a review by Patrick Parkinson.

Church politics and factional disagreements have meant Towards Healing is not yet a truly national process. There are separate church procedures in Melbourne and for any complaints against priests of the Jesuit order.

But for complaints of child sexual abuse in the rest of the country, the process now works like this: When someone comes forward with a complaint, they will be encouraged to go to the police, but if they don't want to go to the police they enter the church process. The allegation is put to the accused person, and if it's admitted, then apologies and compensation can be worked out. If the allegation is denied, the church appoints investigators, who then report back with findings.

In the past five years, several hundred complaints have gone through the Towards Healing process, and it's become obvious there are two clear, consistent expectations from victims. They want an apology, but most of all they want a guarantee.

Angela Ryan: The first thing people are looking for is that it's not happening to anybody else.

Chris Bullock: And that's one of the hardest guarantees that you can give, isn't it?

Angela Ryan: Absolutely.

Chris Bullock: The head of the Catholic church's National Committee for Professional Standards, which oversees Towards Healing, is Angela Ryan.

Angela Ryan: We can only say these are the things we are trying to put in place to ensure that to the best of our ability, it doesn't happen.

Chris Bullock: Are you aware of cases where abuses continued after the process of complaints have come through Towards Healing?

Angela Ryan: I'm aware that there may be one case, I'm not aware of others. But I think I would need to be very anxious and realise what I now know about paedophiles, and we cannot mind somebody 24 hours a day. I mean you get the whole question of, should people be put out of orders and priesthood, or should they stay there? If they're put out, they go out into society with no constraints. If they stay in we run enormous risks of them re-offending, but we know that we can also put in a lot of constraints and structures and assistance, so it's a very delicate question.

Chris Bullock: There are many in the church who would prefer to see paedophile priests defrocked and thrown out onto the street, but it is almost certain they would offend again without treatment. Instead the church says it will defrock offenders, but keep them under church supervision.

The church must also ensure procedural fairness for the accused, and this can be difficult because there may appear to be little evidence other than the victim's story. But it's well accepted that false accusations of child sexual abuse are extremely rare, and the compulsive nature of paedophiles means there is likely to be more than one victim.

In Australia, the Catholic church will remove a priest if he is thought to pose an unacceptable risk to children. And that judgement is based not just on whether the priest has convictions for child abuse, but if there has been a consistent pattern of complaints about his behaviour with children.

"Cumulatively they build up a picture of somebody who could well be a very grave risk to children."

Patrick Parkinson: If you have evidence that over 20 years there have been constant complaints that his man has been making sexually inappropriate remarks to young women, or has been talking to boys about masturbation, or there have been other complaints of young people coming forward and saying 'This man gives me the creepy crawlies' and 'He came to my bed and he did this, and no he didn't sexually assault me but I wondered what he was doing in the room'. If you have all of these different things, cumulatively they build up a picture of somebody who could well be a very grave risk to children.

Chris Bullock: The policy of 'unacceptable risk' has brought Australian bishops into conflict with the Vatican, which wants allegations of child sexual abuse dealt with by secret, internal church courts.

The Chairman of the National Committee for Professional Standards, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.

Geoffrey Robinson: What you have to remember here is that countries have come to terms with this problem at different times. I was in Italy at the end of 1998 just at the time there was a conference of psychiatrists discussing paedophilia and admitting there was not a single person in the whole of Italy trained to interview infants, small children at that time. And I've found by and large Italy's about 12 to 15 years behind Australia, so that unfortunately some of the things we're getting coming out of the Vatican are reflecting where Italy is.

Chris Bullock: Is it an issue of the Australian bishops wanting to be far more open and transparent about the process than the bishops in Rome?

Geoffrey Robinson: Well that would be true. The bishops in Australia have learned the hard way.

Chris Bullock: When you say 'learnt the hard way', learnt the hard way that you can't hide - ?

Geoffrey Robinson: By confronting cases, that they've learned the hard way that you really do have to meet them openly and deal with them. You cannot do anything else. I'm not sure that in all other countries, some of them in Europe, but others in Asia and Africa, I'm not sure that all of those have yet confronted the question.

Chris Bullock: The Vatican for the first time, has just been named in two lawsuits by sexual abuse victims. Two American men have named the Holy See as a defendant in their cases, because they say the Vatican told the church in America to cover up sexual misconduct by priests.

In recent weeks the story of bishops covering up child abuse has dominated the news in the United States and Ireland, and it's been prominent in Australia for months. The churches despair at the Page 1 scandal headlines, and they know with each burst of publicity comes an upsurge in complaints.

It was after media coverage late last year that Michael came forward. A former student priest in Victoria, Michael says a priest masturbated in front of him and tried to seduce him at a teaching seminary back in the mid-'70s.

Michael was 17 or 18, between childhood and adulthood. He says he wasn't assaulted at the time, but he has become increasingly worried about the possibility that the priest, Peter Chalk, may have assaulted children in the past and may do so in the future. At Christmas, Michael finally made a complaint.

Michael: And what really I suppose was a deciding factor was that it occurred to me that perhaps if I didn't, then there was a fair chance that this fellow would offend and create other victims who would be far more significantly hurt than I've been. Almost in the sense of that if I hadn't spoken up I would have felt really guilty, almost compliant in the potential offending of this guy. It's something which has become almost an obsession; it gets me really quite revved up and emotional, and there's a real feeling that I have to do something, and I just can't let it go.

Chris Bullock: Michael lodged a complaint with Peter Chalk's order, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, or MSC, and it appears Michael's obsession may have been well founded. He received a letter of apology from the head of the MSC, the order's Provincial, Father Bob Irwin. This is a reading from that letter.

On behalf of the MSC, I went to apologise to you for the way you were treated. There is never any excuse for the kind of behaviour that Peter Chalk indulged in.

Following the processes set out in Towards Healing, during the past eight years we MSC have been working with some of the victims of Peter Chalk in Melbourne, offering them and their families counselling. This is continuing.

Chris Bullock: Background Briefing has been told the two victims the MSC has been counselling for the past 8 years were 12-year-old boys at the time they were abused by Peter Chalk. Both have since been compensated by the church, after an investigation in Melbourne found their claims to be true, and both have given statements to the Victorian Police.

Peter Chalk is yet to face questioning by the police or the church. He went to Japan in the early 1990s before the boys' complaints were investigated in Melbourne. The head of the MSC says Peter Chalk left the order in 1996 but stayed on in Japan. If the MSC have been counselling victims for the past eight years, they must have known about the complaints for at least two years while Peter Chalk was still in the Order. The MSC did not get Peter Chalk to respond to the complaints, nor did they let the Japanese authorities know.

The police in Victoria have wanted to question Peter Chalk for some time, but they haven't gone to Japan, nor have they sought to bring him back to Australia and unless or until other complaints are made about him, the police are unlikely to chase him.

Organ Music

Chris Bullock: Compared with the co-ordinated Catholic process of Towards Healing, the Anglican process is haphazard: 23 dioceses with 23 different sets of procedures to deal with child sexual abuse complaints.

Whereas Towards Healing takes a victim-orientated pastoral approach, the Anglican process uses tribunals designed to discipline offenders. Patrick Parkinson.

Patrick Parkinson: My impression certainly in those Anglican churches with which I have dealt is that there's a tendency to be very concerned about the defence of the institution.

Chris Bullock: More so than the Catholic church?

Patrick Parkinson: Absolutely more so than the Catholic church, yes. I think the Catholic church in Towards Healing was really saying, 'Look, we want to reach out to victims, we want to meet your needs, we want to help you. If we agree that you were victimised.' The Anglican procedures have tended to be more dominated by a defensive mentality of preserving the assets of the church, of being scared of litigation against the church. But as I've kept emphasising so often, what complainants want is somebody to care about them, somebody to listen and somebody to say, 'Yes, we acknowledge that this has happened, and we are going to do something to try to make sure it doesn't happen again.'

Chris Bullock: The acknowledgement by the Governor-General, Dr Peter Hollingworth, that he mishandled complaints while he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, has exposed the shortcomings of the Anglican complaints process. And a light has been shone on the extent of the problem in Brisbane.

Construction sounds

Chris Bullock: Inside St John's Anglican Cathedral in central Brisbane, some long overdue renovation work is being completed.

But it is the church's image that needs renovating. Dozens of victims are suing the church, most of them former students at Anglican schools, and already the Brisbane diocese has been hit with a court damages payout of $830,000 to one student from the Toowoomba Prep School. At the heart of most of the cases is the allegation the church did not actively and properly pursue victims' complaints.

The Archbishop who inherited a mess from Peter Hollingworth is Phillip Aspinall.

Phillip Aspinall: I think if we have learned anything at all from the Toowomba Prep judgement, the church going out of its way to look after its own economic and legal and insurance interests is not the best way to approach these things. We have to care for people who've been harmed,. That's really the church's reason for being, and that will be our first priority.

Chris Bullock: Archbishop Aspinall's first move to set things right is to set up an inquiry into the way child sexual abuse complaints were handled by the church in the past.

"I think if offences have been committed, then disciplinary action is appropriate."

Phillip Aspinall: The church has not been perfect in its dealing with these matters. So I would expect there to be some shortcomings identified, and I would expect the church to need to learn from those and to set better processes in place for the future, and I think if offences have been committed, then disciplinary action is appropriate.

Chris Bullock: Dr Hollingworth has said publicly that he would be prepared to co-operate in any way with the inquiry; would you anticipate that he would be asked to appear before the inquiry?

Phillip Aspinall: My understanding is what Dr Hollingworth has said is that he welcomes the establishment of the inquiry. I understand that he will welcome the opportunity to tell his side of the story and to talk about the steps he took in relation to the various matters. In view of the fact that some of the media attention has been focused on his time here as Archbishop, I would expect that he would be invited to play a role in the inquiry, yes.

Chris Bullock: The Anglican church in Brisbane may face a compensation bill of millions of dollars from a number of cases coming up in the Supreme Court, and the church may have to ask the congregation to foot much of the bill.

Phillip Aspinall: Well the church will have to meet its financial obligations one way or another, and so I suppose people in the church making contributions so that those obligations can be met is one option that needs to be considered.

Chris Bullock: Is that a difficult thing to do, to go to the congregation and say, 'Can you dig deeper into your pockets to cover for what clergy and members of the church have done'.

Phillip Aspinall: Yes it is a difficult thing. I can understand, as you can I'm sure, that members of our church are angry too about being let down by people who've done the wrong thing, and it adds insult to injury to then be asked to contribute to paying for that damage. But our top priority is to care for people who've been harmed, and many people in the church are prepared to make a contribution to extending care. That's what the church is here for, and many of our people will see it in that light and will want the church to be seen to be doing the right thing, and will make a contribution to allow that to happen.

Chris Bullock: Under the structure of the Anglican church, each diocese is autonomous, some have more money than others, and they rely heavily on money left to the church in trust which could not be used to fund sexual abuse compensation claims. This could leave parts of the church hit with large claims exposed to bankruptcy, as happened in Canada.

Church bells

Chris Bullock: The biggest Anglican diocese is Sydney. In the days after Dr Peter Hollingworth was forced to defend his handling of sexual abuse complaints, the Archbishop of Sydney wrote a letter than was read out in all churches in the diocese.

Minister: In recent days, allegations of child abuse and sexual misconduct generally within the Anglican church have been widely reported in the public media. I write to reaffirm our abhorrence of such behaviour.

Chris Bullock: The Anglican church in Sydney was forced to introduce a better system of dealing with victims' complaints after the 1996 Wood Royal Commission Inquiry into Paedophilia embarrassed the church. The result was a new Church Discipline Ordinance which sped up the investigation of complaints.

But one of the key witnesses to the Wood Royal Commission, someone whose evidence was a catalyst for change in Sydney, is still waiting for some justice.

Clare Pascoe Henderson: It's hard when you go through something that takes up that much of your time and energy, and pushes you so close to the edge of suicide so many times. It's hard to regain some sense of normality.

Chris Bullock: For three years in the early 1980s, Clare Pascoe Henderson had a sexual relationship with her local Anglican minister, which he instigated. It started when she was 14 and finished when she was 17. The experience, she says, left her shattered. When Clare Pascoe Henderson finally took her complaint to the church more than ten years later, she was told the church couldn't do anything because of its statute of limitations, which stopped the church from hearing any complaint that was more than a year old.

She tried to take criminal action, but the DPP wouldn't press charges because her age at the time raised questions about whether she was under or over the age of consent. Civil action also failed.

In the meantime, and unknown to Clare Pascoe Henderson the Anglican church removed the statute of limitations and allowed old complaints to be brought. But the church didn't tell her, that is, until now, six years later, amid the publicity of church inaction on sexual abuse.

Clare Pascoe Henderson: Certainly nobody from the church actually came to me and said, 'Look, it's been removed; you could proceed to a tribunal hearing now if you wanted to.

Chris Bullock: And do you think that's what they should have done, or do you think it was incumbent on you to approach the church once that change had been made.

Clare Pascoe Henderson: I think they should have approached me. And not just me, given that they had made it retrospective in the end, they should have combed their records and approached every single victim and said, 'It is now possible for you to proceed to a tribunal hearing if you want to.' To expect victims who have already been rejected by the church to keep an eye on church processes and church procedures and church laws to check over and over and over again as to whether things have changed, is utterly ridiculous.

Chris Bullock: The church says there was no obligation on it to tell Clare Pascoe Henderson its legislation had changed and she could again pursue her complaint, the Head of the Professional Standards Unit, Philip Gerber.

Philip Gerber: I understand her position. There wasn't any agreement, and maybe in hindsight someone should have let her know that that legislation had gone, through the amending legislation had gone through. It didn't happen. We don't have a process of telling people that legislation was changed, and there wasn't any particular arrangements put in place to make sure that we particularly told Clare Henderson. So she didn't find out, apparently.

Chris Bullock: So you don't think it would be fair to say that the church should have made it clear that they had changed the statute of limitations, or removed the statute of limitations at that time, made it very clear so that people were aware of that?

Philip Gerber: Well I would say that it was clear, because our ordinances are published and so in a sense just like the DPP and the police, we are reactive to complainants saying, 'I want to press on with my case', and there wasn't the complaint coming to us directly from her saying, 'I still want to press on and have this man prosecuted'.

Chris Bullock: Six years after she first complained to the church, Clare Pascoe Henderson has mixed feelings about the new offer of a tribunal hearing.

"It is essentially another legal process. I can be put on trial, I can be cross-examined, and given the treatment I've had from the church in the last six years, it doesn't fill me with any great sense of trust that I would be well treated."

Clare Pascoe Henderson: It is essentially another legal process. I can be put on trial, I can be cross-examined, and given the treatment I've had from the church in the last six years, it doesn't fill me with any great sense of trust that I would be well treated. But also I think this is far more about making the church look good than about doing it for me. If they were going to do it for me, they could have done it years ago, but it's expedient for them. So yes, I have huge reservations. At the same time I do welcome it as an indication that the church is being forced into dealing with these kinds of issues.

Chris Bullock: Co-ordinating Producer, Linda McGinness; Technical production by David Bates; Research, Paul Bolger; Background Briefing's Executive Producer is Kirsten Garrett, and I'm Chris Bullock.
Further information

    Broken Rites
    Broken Rites is a non-denominational support group for people who have been abused sexually, physically or emotionally in religious institutions.

    Clergy Sexual Abuse In Australia: Clare Pascoe Henderson
    "...designed by and for survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Australia"

    The Anglican Church of Australia

    The Govenor General of the Commonwealth of Australia

    Toward Healing: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
    Principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against personnel of the Catholic Church of Australia.

    Uniting Church policy documents and guidlines
    Includes links to a document on guidelines for dealing with a complaint of sexual misconduct.

    Professor Patrick Parkinson
    Patrick Parkinson is a specialist in family law, child protection and the law of Equity and Trusts.


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia