Statement from Bishop Bill Wright: Volume IV of the Cunneen Commission Report

When first asked about the calls for a Royal Commission into the history of Child Sexual Abuse in this diocese, I said that I would welcome a public inquiry. I believed that only an investigation by civil authority would have credibility with the community. Accordingly, the diocese co-operated fully with the subsequent Cunneen Special Commission and the McClellan Royal Commission, making all our records available to them. So I welcome the release of Volume IV of the Cunneen Report and I hope the McClellan Royal Commission report on its case study into this diocese will soon be made public.

In recent days, there have been calls for me to make a public apology on behalf of the diocese in light of the contents of Volume IV. I have repeatedly acknowledged and apologised publicly, and privately to former victims of abuse, for the crimes of clergy and others in the diocese who abused children or who failed to act to prevent abuse. As a diocese, we have made very public acknowledgement of those crimes and failures through the Lina’s Project event at Newcastle Town Hall two years ago and the subsequent projection of the video, noting and naming the offenders, onto church buildings in Newcastle and Maitland. As it happens, another Lina’s Project event takes place this weekend in Foster-Tuncurry as part of the diocese’s second annual Perpetual Day of Remembrance for those harmed by child sexual abuse. So I have no hesitation in repeating and confirming the acknowledgements and unreserved apologies I have previously made publicly. I renew my invitation to those affected by abuse; if it is of assistance on your healing journeys to meet with me and hear an apology from me, I welcome that opportunity for us to have a conversation. The ‘Lina’s Project Newcastle’ video, by the way, remains available on YouTube or via www.linasproject.com.au.

Much of Volume IV of the Cunneen Report deals with actions and omissions of former leaders of this diocese, notably my predecessor Bishop Michael Malone and Fr (now Archbishop) Philip Wilson, both now retired. I have no more information on these matters than anyone else who has examined Volume IV of Cunneen and the reports of Archbishop Wilson’s trial and appeal, so I have no qualification to enter into a commentary upon them. The two bishops are alive and may wish to respond on their own accounts. Otherwise, the documents stand on their merits.

Volume IV also details Zimmerman Services' failure to report a letter in 2010-11. Mr Sean Tynan, then manager of Zimmerman House accepted responsibility for this oversight and did so on oath before the Cunneen Commission in 2013. It was a rare lapse from his usual thoroughness, as the Cunneen Reports notes, and did also expose a systemic fault that allowed one person’s oversight to pass undetected. Zimmerman’s procedures were quickly amended to correct that fault. The Cunneen Report acknowledges that as well as many other improvements to the diocese’s and Zimmerman’s policies and procedures introduced under Mr Tynan’s leadership. Setting that lapse in 2011 beside his enormous contribution to child safety in the diocese, I retain confidence in Sean Tynan to guide the diocese and me through the processes of fully implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission and the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards now in place.

Finally, I note that much has been done since the Cunneen and McClellan Commissions. Most recently, we have expanded Zimmerman Services into the Office of Safeguarding, with increased authority to examine compliance with the published standards and policies across the diocese, additional resources and additional personnel. The Healing and Support branch of Zimmerman Services, which both Commissioners Cunneen and McClellan commended, has also been given increased resources and staff. So, after the conclusion of Commission-level inquiries into the diocese, we continue our commitment to child safety in our church, to support those affected by historic abuse, and to the creation of an ever-improving culture of care, responsibility and accountability in this diocese and beyond.

 

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