The Sydney Morning Herald
November 14, 2014 by Frank McGuire
Middle-aged men wept with joy. Women silenced by unspeakable crimes since they were girls raised three cheers for the Victorian Parliament a year ago, when I told survivors of child sexual abuse that bipartisan support had been secured to implement all recommendations from the landmark report, Betrayal of Trust.
Findings of the parliamentary inquiry revealed a cover-up that killed in religious and other non-government organisations in Victoria. Heinous crimes were exposed, blighted lives acknowledged and remedies agreed across the political divide.
Victims abused physically, emotionally and sexually as innocent children felt vindicated after summoning the fortitude as adults to testify. Survivors waved red balloons and hugged each other during the “Rally of Hope” on the steps of Parliament, in recognition that after so much suffering at the hands of institutions, a measure of trust had finally been restored.
Goodwill expired with Victoria’s 57th Parliament. Survivors have contacted me dismayed that key recommendations were not implemented despite incontrovertible evidence that the sexual and physical abuse of children has been endemic for generations in many Victorian public and private institutions.
The dark heart of sexual crimes against children has always been individuals and organisations getting away with the use and abuse of power. A recommendation not implemented required non-government organisations to become incorporated and adequately insured where the Victorian Government funds them or provides tax exemptions or other entitlements. This reform would improve scrutiny, accountability and compliance because it paves the way for organisations to be sued for offences.
Men claiming to represent God committed crimes against children, once hanging offences in Victoria, the parliamentary inquiry revealed. Whether criminal child abuse was concealed because of noble cause corruption, a misplaced sense of loyalty to a higher duty, religious organisations rationalised the most egregious conduct. The Anglican and Catholic churches and the Salvation Army regularly took steps to conceal wrongdoing through wilful blindness and codes of silence, according to their concessions and a substantial body of credible evidence.
Jewish and Islamic representative bodies testified that their communities also suffered the scourge of child abuse but experienced difficulties even mentioning that it may have occurred. A similar situation can be expected in other religious, social, sporting and cultural groups where offenders have easy access to children and where, for a range of reasons, abuse has been kept hidden, the inquiry disclosed.
Betrayal of Trust validated the rights of individuals. The failure to introduce an important principle ignores lessons from other jurisdictions. Only organisations that appeared before Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry benefit from delays in implementation, anticipating that community outrage and the media spotlight will shift to fresh concerns, leaving them relatively unscathed.
Coinciding with the anniversary of the Betrayal of Trust report is the replacement of Cardinal George Pell as Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. His successor, Anthony Fisher, has told the ABC the Catholic church will not regain public trust until it provides genuine justice for sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy.
“People are going to want to see more than just bishops feeling sad about it,” Archbishop Fisher said. “They are going to want to be convinced that we really are acting out of justice and compassion for the victims. We accept that this is a spiritual, moral problem in our church and not just some bad guys in the old days.”
He declared there needs to be fair compensation and measures put in place so it never happens again.
Child sexual abuse is too important for politics. It is about crime not faith, as I have long argued. Church and state must implement recommendations in the public interest no matter who is in power because if accountability simply involves acceptance of temporary outbursts of anger and nothing more, it is not meaningful, least of all to victims. Worse, it does not provide any greater protection in the future for our children.
Frank McGuire was deputy chair of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations that delivered the bipartisan report Betrayal of Trust. He is the Labor MP for Broadmeadows.
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