Last Thursday, November 8, 2012, The Newcastle Herald published an article entitled "Top cop attacks church - Detective's letter alleges sex abuse cover-up". The Herald also printed an open letter to NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell written by the same officer, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, headed "Don't block your ears to abuse, Mr Premier".
The article, "Top cop attacks church" begins by saying "The Catholic Church covers up the crimes of paedophile priests, silences victims and hinders police investigations, one of the Hunter's most experienced detectives alleges in a letter to Premier Barry O'Farrell in the Newcastle Herald today," (Newcastle Herald, Thursday November 8, 2012).
The Newcastle Herald did not offer the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle an opportunity to respond before printing such damning allegations. As comments on the present practices of this diocese, these allegations, made in the present tense, are not true.
The diocese reports all allegations of criminal conduct to the Police, whether or not the person making the complaint wishes to have contact with Police themselves. The diocese reports all complaints of reportable conduct to the Ombudsman.
As to silencing victims, the settlements made with victims of abuse in no way limit their freedom to speak of what happened to them if they wish to do so. The Church's official protocols for these matters, the Towards Healing protocols, in fact stipulate that there must not be any such confidentiality clauses.
As to hindering Police investigations, the diocese has supplied any and all information requested by the Police on these matters. If we are investigating any matter ourselves before the Police commence an investigation, we suspend our inquiry so as not to get in the way of police work.
Child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime; it is shameful and shocking that a crime so contrary to the message of Christ could ever be perpetrated by someone associated with the church. Nevertheless, the diocese has acknowledged repeatedly that such crimes have been committed. The diocese has acknowledged that in the past the phenomenon of paedophilia was poorly understood and that our responses to it were often woefully inadequate. These things have been acknowledged, and apologies have been made, repeatedly, by my predecessor as bishop, by the Australian bishops, by the Pope himself in Sydney.
Sexual abuse of children is considered abhorrent to all decent people. Probing into these matters for years on end must, therefore, take a terrible toll on the police officers engaged with these matters. I myself have listened to the stories of many who have been abused, read the transcripts of evidence, looked into the faces. I get angry. While my heart goes out to those who suffered abuse, I am filled with contempt and rage against those who so betrayed the ideals of Christianity and the sacred offices that they held. I can appreciate the anger and frustration that must build up in a dedicated Police officer like Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox. That anger and frustration, however, does not entitle him to remain unchallenged when he makes statements about the present day situation that are simply not correct.
A further aspect of the present practice of the diocese is its commitment to assisting victims of abuse. We provide a range of individualised support for people who have been affected by sexual abuse within the diocese. We employ a Co-ordinator of Healing and Support specifically to work with individuals adversely affected by child sexual assault perpetrated by personnel of the diocese, to support and promote their personal and unique journey towards healing.
As a matter of fact, over the past few years the Police themselves have been contacting Zimmerman Services (the diocese's specialist child protection unit), seeking our support and assistance to victims who have just come forward. Police ask the diocese to arrange support for these victims through the criminal justice process, in giving evidence, or even when they are witnesses in a criminal trial. That is a clear and obvious example of the care provided to those who have been harmed and of the cooperation that now exists between the diocese and Police. It was not always so, but that's how it is now.
I believe the Newcastle Herald knows these facts but chooses not to report them.
I have no problem with the Herald campaigning for a Royal Commission, because that is a matter for the community and its representatives to determine by debate in the public domain. I do not, however, think it is legitimate to lend urgency to the case for a Royal Commission by misrepresenting the present situation or the present practices of the church in NSW.
The diocese has publicly acknowledged its particularly troubled history regarding the sexual abuse of children. This history has caused and continues to cause pain to the victims of abuse, their families and the broader faith community. Moreover, we recognise that while the crimes may be historic, for many people the pain is ever present.
I wish to again assure the whole community of our commitment to doing what we can to redress past wrongs. We cannot change the past but we will continue to honestly and earnestly admit to our failings and work with all those who come to us.
The diocese will continue to:
- Welcome and listen to all those who wish to make their stories known to us, to seek acknowledgement of wrongs done to them, or to gain help with their journey to healing;
- Co-operate fully with Police investigations;
- Work closely with the NSW Ombudsman and the Commission for Children and Young People to ensure appropriate statutory oversight of the diocese's child protection services continues;
- Require all diocesan personnel to maintain contemporary knowledge of child protection standards and their responsibilities to report issues of concern promptly;
- Offer ongoing support to those who have been harmed and explore new ways to promote healing;
- Meet its moral and legal obligations to protect the children of the diocese from abuse, and
- Address the enduring legacy of historic child sexual assault that occurred within the diocese.
You can contact Zimmerman Services by phone (02) 4979 1390 or find out more by visiting the Zimmerman Services page.
Bishop Bill Wright
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
Friday 9 November, 2012