Broken Rites helped Australia's child-abuse Royal Commission

  • By a Broken Rites researcher (first version posted in early 2013, updated on 19 November 2017)

On 14 December 2017, Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will conclude its five-year-long inquiry for the Australian government. The Commission has investigated how organisations, such as churches, have handled the issue of child sexual abuse. The Commission will make recommendations about how Australia could improve child safety. Many community bodies, including Broken Rites, have supported and helped the Commission's work.

Behind the scenes

During its five years, the Royal Commission's office handled 41,188 phone calls; and received 25,157 letters and emails.

A total of 7,892 victims accepted an offer to have a private interview with one of the six Commissioners.

In certain cases, if a victim wished, the Commissioners could arrange for the victim to have a private interview with civil authorities, including child-protection police. And 2,402 of the victims accepted this offer. With help from the police, many of the perpetrators were charged in court and possibly jailed, with the victim's identity suppressed.

[Broken Rites has always recommended that any victim should have a private chat with child-protection detectives. Too often, a victim presumes — incorrectly— that he or she is the only victim of a particular perpetrator. Sometimes, however, the detectives might already know of other victims of the same perpetrator. With more evidence, the detectives can eventually arrest and charge any child-abuser but only if the victims have spoken to the detectives. A victim's name remains confidential.]

Public hearings

During its five years, the Royal Commission held 57 public hearings, lasting for a total of 444 days, and heard evidence from more than 1,300 witnesses (including a number of victims).

The Commission protected the privacy of each victim, by giving each victim a code-name (such as "A43" or "W32") instead of the victim's real name.

Each public hearing was on a specific case study (for example, about a particular religious order or a particular diocese or about a particular city or about a particular problem).

These public hearings were reported in the media, with a victim's face not shown.

Cover-up

A significant proportion of the victims (in the private interviews and the public hearings) were Catholics or ex-Catholics, who described how their abuse was covered up by the church — and how the church's cover-up could damage the victims' adolescent and adult development. The cover-up also damaged the relationships within a family.

The practice of cover-up became a major focus of the Royal Commission.

How Broken Rites helped

In late 2012, the Australian federal government announced the establishment of this Royal Commission.

So, what kind of events had prompted the government to do this? And why in 2012?

By 2012, the Broken Rites victim support group had spent twenty years doing research about the covering up of clergy sexual abuse. Our research team members had experienced a Catholic childhood and had been hurt by the church's habit of cover-up. Therefore, the Broken Rites team (who were part-time volunteers) focused on the area they knew best — that is, Catholic cases. By 2012, our research was having an increasing impact on the public:

For example, some of the national developments by 2012 included:-

  1. On 2 July 2012, with help from Broken Rites, the Australian television program "Four Corners" revealed that, for thirty years, the Catholic Church authorities covered up certain allegations about a New South Wales priest, John Joseph Farrell (sometimes referred to in the media, for legal reasons, as "Father F"). In particular, the church failed to advise any of Father Farrell's child-victims about how and where to report Farrell's crimes to the Sex Crime Squad of the New South Wales police.
     
  2. In early 2012, following twenty years of research by Broken Rites, the Victorian Parliament began a public inquiry (conducted by a committee of six parliamentarians) into child sexual abuse in religious denominations. This inquiry was confined to the state of Victoria (and it lacked the full powers of a Royal Commission) but this Victorian inquiry helped to prompt the federal government.
     
  3. By 2012, Broken Rites research revealed (for example) how the Catholic Church authorities had (for twenty years), covered up the crimes of Father Denis McAlinden in the Newcastle region in New South Wales, while transferring him to parishes around Australia with access to new victims. This prompted a Newcastle Herald journalist (Joanne McCarthy) to investigate other cases of church cover-up in the Newdastle region. These Newcastle revelations forced the NSW government to appoint a Special Commission of Inquiry into two Catholic priests, although the government confined this inquiry to the Newcastle region, not the whole state.

Thus, in late 2012, the federal government finally established a national Royal Commission on child abuse. The Royal Commission's activities began in early 2013.

Further information

To see the Royal Commission's official website, click HERE.