'Towards Healing' helps the church, rather than the victims

By a Broken Rites researcher

Broken Rites is pleased that Australia's national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating the Catholic Church's so-called "Towards Healing" process, which claims to "help" the church's abuse-victims.  Broken Rites has been researching "Towards Healing" since 1996, and this article sums up some of our main findings so far. This Broken Rites article demonstrates how "Towards Healing" is really a business strategy, designed to protect the church's assets and its corporate image.

The Catholic Church in Australia operates its "Towards Healing" scheme to receive (and respond to) complaints from the church's sex-abuse victims. Broken Rites found that Towards Healing was designed in conjunction with the church's lawyers, its accountants and its insurance company. The name "Towards Healing" is the kind of brand-name that could be inspired by any public-relations consultant or advertising firm.

In some cases, Towards Healing might give help a victim to "heal" but this help is incidental to the primary object - the church's business strategy.

The Towards Healing scheme is conducted in association with the Catholic Church's own insurance company, Catholic Church Insurances Limited (CCI). CCI has stated that this company "carries the burden of salary and support staff" for Towards Healing and, furthermore, that CCI will "provide practical support" for any future fine-tuning of the Towards Healing system

Many of the church's victims have had an unsatisfactory experience with Towards Healing, finding the process too defensive and evasive. After going to Towards Healing, many victims feel re-victimised.

Origins of Towards Healing

The Catholic Church introduced the Towards Healing scheme in Australia in 1996, after Broken Rites Australia had spent three years making the Australian public aware of the problem of church sexual abuse. Many church victims were contacting Broken Rites to report instances of clergy sexual abuse. Some of these victims then reported these crimes to the police, while other victims instructed solicitors to take civil action against the church. Therefore the church established (and publicised) its Towards Healing process, so that victims would contact Towards Healing rather than contacting Broken Rites.

Towards Healing is administered by a Professional Standards Office (PSO), located in each Australian state. The church invites its victims to report details of the abuse, and the PSO then forwards the complaint to the relevant diocese or religious order, which is required to "respond". Too often, the response is evasive.

Despite its charitable-sounding name, Towards Healing is really a business procedure, designed to protect the church from the legal liability of compensating some victims or, at least, to limit any liability.

If a victim's life has been damaged by church-abuse, the church is not prepared to pay the full and reasonable compensation that would be payable by any other business corporation. Through the Towards Healing system, the church seeks to evade compensation completely, although sometimes the church offers a small discounted settlement if the victim agrees not to pursue litigation for the full amount to which he/she would normally be entitled.

To cover any of these modest payouts, the Catholic Church operates its own insurance company, Catholic Church Insurances Limited. Many Catholic dioceses and religious orders in Australia pay an annual premium to CCI to cover any settlements which the church is unable to evade.

Catholic Church Insurances Limited (CCI) is therefore closely associated with the Towards Healing process.

The insurance policy

The Catholic Church in Australia revealed in 1993 that any diocese or religious order may choose to take out an insurance policy to cover its liability for the damage suffered by the church's sexual abuse victims. The existence of the insurance policy was revealed by Bishop Peter Connors on ABC TV's "Compass" program on Sunday 27 June 1993. Connors was then the chairman of the church's "special issues" sub-committee, attached to the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference. An article about the insurance policy appeared in that day's edition of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph.

In 1993, the expression "special issues" was code for "church sexual abuse". The "special issues" sub-committee had the responsibility of considering damage-control for the church's sex-abuse problem which was becoming a major public issue.

Broken Rites possesses a photocopy of a CCI Limited insurance policy from the early 1990s. The document says that the policy is for "Special Issues Liability" and it relates to the Special Issues Committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

By late 1996, the "Special Issues" Committee was evolving into the church's National Committee for Professional Standards(NCPS), which published a booklet entitled Towards Healing — a cosmetic name that had been coined with a eye to the church's public image as a "helping" institution.

The booklet involved input from the church's insurers, as well as its lawyers. In the early years of the NCPS and Towards Healing, the executive director of the NCPS (Sister Angela Ryan) was also a director of Catholic Church Insurances Limited — which many victims might regard as a conflict of interest.

The insurance company's role

The following information was downloaded in 2007 from the website of Catholic Church Insurances Limited (CCI). This material demonstrates that the insurance company is behind Towards Healing and that the company will be involved in any future fine-tuning of Towards Healing.

Here is the quote, word for word, from the  CCI website:-

  • "Catholic Church Insurances has been represented on 2 joint committees — the Special Issues Committee and subsequently the National Committee for Professional Standards — with the burden of salary and support staff carried by this company.

    "We have developed the knowledge to guide the Church through the processes established under the 'Towards Healing' protocol. Our representative is often the first call for advice.

    "We also provide advice to Diocesan Finance Managers and Bursars on our own policy protection, recoveries from other insurers, assistance with likely quantum of claims and financial reserves.

    "Catholic Church Insurances has provided practical support for:

    * The "Towards Healing" document

    *The "Integrity in Ministry" document

    * The "Formation for Ministry" Conference

    * Membership of the Board and provision of secretarial services to "Encompass Australasia". [This was a "counselling" service for clergy and religious personnel who have sexual-abuse problems but in 2008 the church downgraded this service.]

    * In the future, the review of "Towards Healing"

[End of quote from the Catholic Church Insurances Limited website, July 2007.]

When Broken Rites checked again in November 2008, the CCI website included another interesting statement: "We [Catholic Church Insurances Limited] exist to protect the Church."

Many church-abuse victims have found that Towards Healing, too, exists to protect the church.

Tax-free perks

Catholic Church Insurances Limited is a profit-making business, which seeks to enjoy some of the perquisites of the tax-exempt status that is given to religious organisations and charities. This is demonstrated in a newspaper item in 2006:-

Church faces tax bill
by Karen Collier
Herald Sun, Melbourne, July 15, 2006

  • The Catholic Church's prayers have been ignored in a fight with the tax man over a $1.15 million Melbourne property.

    An insurance company owned by the church hoped to escape $63,250 stamp duty on the Spring St apartment bought two years ago.

    Catholic Church Insurances swore it was exempt because it was a corporation set up for a religious or charitable purpose.

    But the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal yesterday ruled in favour of the Commissioner of State Revenue.

    The tribunal heard that although the insurer was at first established for religious and charitable reasons, its business had broadened.

    No one from Catholic Church Insurances was available for comment yesterday.

    The CCI website describes a range of insurance cover available for parishes, schools, hospitals and other church institutions, and the broader Catholic community.

    It also offers international travel insurance for bishops and personal accident insurance for clergy.

Comment by Broken Rites: Although Catholic Church Insurances Limited doesn't like paying taxes, it gladly spends money on the Professional Standards Office in each state to run the Towards Healing system, and it apparently regards this expenditure as a wise investment.

Broken Rites has made some more comments about Towards Healing in a previous article about how victims can obtain justice. Below is what we wrote:-

A warning about the "Towards Healing" system

Unfortunately, instead of first consulting the detectives in the state police force, many Catholic Church victims report the crime not to the police but to the criminals' friends and colleagues in the church through the church's in-house complaints system (the Professional Standards Office, or PSO, also known as "Towards Healing"). This mistake enables the church to "tip off" the offender about the complaint (thus thwarting any later police investigation). And the church authorities (or their lawyers) are able to remove any incriminating documents from church files before the police arrive.

The Towards Healing system is financed by the church's own insurance office, Catholic Church Insurances Limited. If a victim asks whether Towards Healing has received any previous complaints about Father X or Brother Y, Towards Healing is tempted to say "No". By making no admissions, the Towards Healing is limiting the church's liability and protecting the church's assets.

Many victims have found the Towards Healing system evasive and abusive. For example, Towards Healing is legally obliged to tell the victim: "You have a legal right to go the police." But the victim is left with the impression that "going to the police" means going to the reception counter at a local "cop-shop". The victim is also left with the impression that the prosecution process is a troublesome one.

Broken Rites, on the other hand, tells the victim about the option of arranging to have a confidential (and non-binding) chat with a police detective.

Towards Healing also leaves the victim with the impression that, instead of telling the police, it is "better" to get a "confidential" financial settlement from the church, through Towards Healing. Victims are warned that, if they talk to the police, the church will halt the settlement process.

Many victims wrongly assume that a "confidential" settlement is a "gag order", preventing them from ever telling anybody else about the abuse. In fact, however, the "confidentiality" really refers to the actual payout — that is, the number of dollars.

Royal Commission

In December 2013, the Royal Commission held a ten-day public hearing, examining four cases in which the church authorities have mis-treated victims during the Towards Healing process. To read about one of those cases (concerning a female victim, Joan), click HERE.

In late 2013, the Royal Commission issued an invitation for stakeholders to make written submissions about "Towards Healing". Dr Wayne Chamley, an honorary advocate who helps victims, wrote a submission. To see Dr Chamley's paper, click HERE.