Case Study 26: Hearing room updates

Hearing room up dates from Public Hearing - Case Study 26: St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol, Rockhampton April 2015

 

Update 68
Wednesday 22 April 2015

The Royal Commission’s hearing into St Joseph’s Orphanage Neerkol continued in Rockhampton today (Wednesday 22 April) with Sr Berneice Loch completing her evidence about the Sisters of Mercy’s response to survivors of abuse at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol.

Sr Loch gave evidence that in 1996 the Sisters engaged abuse expert, Dr Robert Grant to help them better understand and respond to child sexual abuse.

Sr Loch told the Royal Commission it was important that all people associated with the Sisters’ mission attended and were part of the training.

“The leadership team had arrived at saying, ‘We need to take this approach’, but there was not really much point in having just five of us committed. We honestly needed our congregation behind us.  We needed to talk with them so that we knew that they would support us.  We could have been heavily undermined if most of our Sisters thought that what we were doing was quite silly or wrong or misjudged.”

Asked what the feedback from the Sisters was to the training, Sr Loch responded that many of them had quite shifted their understanding.

Sr Loch also gave evidence to the Royal Commission about the types of assistance the Sisters currently provide survivors, which she said included counselling, medical and dental expenses, assistance with accommodation, payment for education expenses for both, survivors and their families, transport and other items they needed.

Sr Loch said the Sisters current Response Coordinator provides job references for people for their employment and funds for legal advice. Assistance with representations to external bodies such as the Queensland government redress scheme and professional standards offices has also been provided.

Sr Loch said that access to the archives of the Sisters of Mercy has been provided to former residents, to help them trace their families and find other information.

“I would see that as a very important thing to make sure - our records are not extensive, but what is there can be very important to people.”

Sr Loch concluded her evidence by discussing a joint statement she issued with Bishop McCarthy at the start of the Neerkol hearing, in which both expressed their support for the work of the Royal Commission and their hope the hearing would provide some healing for survivors.

In the statement Sister Loch and Bishop McCarthy renewed their apology to the survivors of Neerkol and their families.

“I have been deeply moved this week and last week at the goodness of people who have come through very hard days; by their goodness and courage.”

 Sr Loch said that acknowledging past failings and listening with an open heart is “the only way we can be the Church we're called to be.”

Ms Di-Anne Rowan, former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy Rockhampton, gave evidence about the establishment of support systems for former residents, training of the Order, and compensation paid to former residents.

Ms Rowan said that the Sisters had sold the St Joseph’s Orphanage in early 2001, to fund compensation paid to more than 70 former residents who had taken legal action against the Sisters.

She said some $500,000 in lump sum compensation was paid to the residents, with the balance of the funds from the sale of the Orphanage being used by the Sisters to fund ongoing assistance to former residents and the establishment and operation of the Sisters’ Professional Standards Office.

She gave evidence that since the sale of the Orphanage more money had been spent on support and the operation of the Professional Standards Office than were received in the sale.

Ms Rowan said the Sisters of Mercy took the view that regardless of legal advice at the time, which suggested that legal claims could be successfully defended, they should do what was morally right.

Ms Rowan reflected on the effect of hearing of the abuse allegations and her reaction to the allegations.  She wrote in a note in February 1997 that the Sisters “really feel for those who have been hurt.  We want to offer support to victims of abuse, to listen to their experiences and to help them find healing for their hurts.

“I am sorry that our response at the time did not eliminate suffering.   That is the reality.  I am sorry that we were so naïve we did not realise how some people would take advantage of the children and abuse the system's trust.

“I encourage all the residents of Neerkol to tell their experiences.  If any behaviour was criminal, then it should be a matter for the courts.

“We want to assure the residents of Neerkol that they will be treated justly.  If they need support, we will try to provide it.”

Ms Rowan told the Royal Commission that those principles guided her work responding to people who came forward with stories of abuse for the remainder of her time as Congregational Leader.

Reflecting on this time, she said, “Working with those who had been at Neerkol was perhaps one of the hardest things I'd had to do …  But I would still consider it the greatest privilege to have been part of that to meet them and to work with them.”

Following Ms Rowan, the hearing concluded with evidence from Daniel Boyle, Consultant Crown Prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Queensland.  Mr Boyle gave evidence about his office’s consideration of prosecutions of charges against Fr Durham (who pleaded guilty) and Kevin Baker (who has not been convicted and denies the allegations).

 

Update 67
Tuesday 21 April 2015

The Royal Commission’s hearing into St Joseph’s Orphanage Neerkol continued in Rockhampton today with Sr Berneice Loch, Institute Leader, continuing to give evidence about the early years in which the Sisters of Mercy started to develop approaches to address sexual and other abuse perpetrated against former residents of the Orphanage.

During examination by Senior Counsel Assisting, Sophie David, Sr Loch accepted that it was a mistake to not approach a number of former residents when she had been made aware in the early to mid-1990s of the abuse they had suffered. 

Yesterday, Sr Loch gave evidence that as a teacher and up to 1996 she had not received any training to help her identify or deal with allegations of child sexual abuse from either the Catholic education system or the State government education system.

Sr Loch was asked about her response to allegations made in a ministerial statement to Queensland Parliament by MP Kevin Lingard in 1996.  She told the Royal Commission she had been unhappy that no effort had been made to substantiate allegations or notify the Sisters before the statement was made.

Sr Loch said however that her concern from when she first heard allegations of abuse at the Orphanage in the early 1990s was for the children, now adults, who had been in the care of the Sisters.  She rejected the suggestion by Senior Counsel Assisting that her focus had been the prevention of damage to the church’s reputation.

“Most of the time about this period, we were attempting to learn a great deal more about both physical and sexual abuse.  We did not have an in-depth understanding of the issue and we employed a person to really help us learn a lot more about it. 

“I was well aware that…we needed aposition that the congregation could endorse, not just that one person could take, and so we did put a lot of energy at this time about learning about physical and sexual abuse and its impact on people.”

She said she had been dismayed by what was happening.

“I knew that together we had to address the situation.  We had to find a way forward and we had to address any wrong that had been done by us.”

When asked about legal proceedings brought by a former resident against the Sisters which was ultimately dismissed because of time limitations, Sr Loch said she had not regarded the dismissal of the case to be the end of the matter.

“I was still concerned that the mere fact that it was not going to go to court didn't actually resolve anything. If there had been offence, throwing it out of court was not any kind of delivery of justice, so it still had to be addressed,” she said.

Senior Counsel Assisting went on to ask: “And in your statement, you say that the legal process doesn't always yield the results that people want, let alone healing.  Were you thinking of issues of healing at that point?” 

“Oh, definitely, yes,” Sr Loch responded. 

Towards the end of an extended day of evidence, Sr Loch was asked by Senior Counsel for the Sisters, the Diocese and the TJHC, Jane Needham, about the effect that meeting Neerkol survivor Mr David Owen for the first time had had on her.

“It was a very moving meeting for me. I anticipated that Dave would be very antagonistic and perhaps he was when he first walked in to the room, but he was obviously also open to talking. I was open to talking with him. I found he talked about his experience I just found myself reaching back in time, really, to the little boy who had been hurt.”

“And was that a revelation to you?” Ms Needham asked.

“Yes, it was,” Sr Loch responded.

The hearing will continue, and may conclude, tomorrow (Wednesday).

 

Update 66
Monday 20 April 2015

The Royal Commission’s hearing into St Joseph’s Orphanage Neerkol continued in Rockhampton today with Bishop Brian Heenan, former Bishop of Rockhampton giving evidence about the Diocese’s efforts to improve its approach to allegations of child sexual abuse.

In 1997, US specialist, Dr Robert Grant was engaged by the Diocese to provide training and support to the Diocese and the Sisters of Mercy regarding the nature of abuse. 

Bishop Heenan instigated forums in major centres in the Dioceses to raise awareness of sexual abuse and to encourage others who may have been abused to come forward.

He also appointed a Diocesan contact person to receive and respond to allegations in order to provide a reliable, consistent approach across the Diocese and from the Sisters of Mercy.

On the issue of support of priests, Bishop Heenan said his duty to support priests did not preclude him from supporting the police and the prosecution of offending priests. Bishop Heenan did in fact give statements to assist the police in the prosecution of Durham.

Bishop Heenan’s response to former residents of Neerkol included an apology issued in February 1998, a commitment to support the Neerkol Action Support Group and the taking of steps to assist victims of abuse in the Diocese. Witnesses said his role was positive, despite initial difficulties.

He outlined 13 separate structures and guidelines put in place in the Diocese since 1996 (including implementation of some national church initiatives) to strengthen protection measures and complaints handling.

In a statement outside the hearing room at the conclusion of his evidence, Bishop Heenan once again apologised to the survivors of St Joseph’s Orphanage.

“I apologise again for the harm and suffering of former St Joseph’s Orphanage residents at the hands of the Catholic Church clerics, sisters and staff.  I also apologies again for the way in which I responded to these victims. I failed them and for that I will be forever sorry.”

Majella Ryan, representing the Queensland Government, gave evidence regarding records of child sexual abuse held by the State, indicating there was no evidence of policies or procedures in the archives relating to child sex abuse.

She was asked questions about the Queensland Government’s Forde Inquiry into abuse of children in Queensland institutions.  The closed section of the Inquiry’s report looked at the Queensland Government’s supervision of Neerkol.  It revealed that there was no real interest in inspectors exploring the conditions of the children living at Neerkol which it found had been underfunded and poorly staffed.

The Queensland Government accepted the findings of the Forde Inquiry, has acted on the recommendations and continues to do so.

In response to the Forde Inquiry, the Queensland Government established a $100m fund in recognition of trauma children had suffered with a maximum compensation payment of $33,000 on the condition of recipients signing a deed of release.

Sr Berneice Loch, Institute Leader of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, gave evidence in the afternoon session about emerging Church protocols in the early 1990s and the relevant consultation processes.

Sr Loch said her concern from when she first heard of abuse at St Josephs in the early 1990s was the protection of the children in the care of the Sisters and rejected the suggestion by Counsel Assisting that the focus was preventing damage to the church’s reputation.

Sister Loch’s evidence will continue on Tuesday.

 

Update 65
Friday 17 April 2015, Day 4

The Royal Commission today heard evidence from the first Church witness, former Bishop of Rockhampton, Brian Heenan, about the Diocese of Rockhampton and the Sisters of Mercy’s response to the allegations of abuse at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol. 

Bishop Heenan was the Rockhampton bishop from 1991 until he retired in 2013. He had responsibility for a number of priests, including Durham and Anderson, who abused children at the orphanage.

In evidence Bishop Heenan, on many occasions, expressed his regret at the way in which he had responded when allegations of abuse were made to him by a number of former residents.

“Well, it's all part of what I said before, a very inadequate response to the whole situation around Father Durham… a very inadequate response on my part to the situation which I regret,” he said.

He also accepted that on occasions he had put the reputation of the Church ahead of the interests of the victims of abuse. 

When asked on a number of occasions if the way in which he had handled the allegations, including accepting that one victim did not want to take her claims to the police, was to protect the reputation of the Church, Bishop Heenan agreed.

After the first Neerkol allegations were raised in the Queensland Parliament in 1996 Bishop Heenan circulated a letter in his parishes, refuting the allegations of abuse as “scurrilous” and “scandalous”.

He later apologised to abuse victims when he became aware of the full extent and truth of the allegations and told the Commission again today that he will regret writing that letter for the rest of his life. 

In a statement to the Commission Bishop Heenan said that in February 1997 he had written to the priests of the Diocese to inform them of Reg Durham’s retirement.

“I informed the priests that Reg Durham was charged with serious sexual offences and that he had resigned from all ministry and will no longer be responsible for public ministry at Neerkol Parish. I deeply regret the terms of this letter and its focus on Reg Durham, rather than the victims of his abuse.”

In a statement earlier in the week from Counsel Assisting the Commission, Sophie David, the Commission heard that the Diocese provided an apology to former residents of Neerkol in December 1997.

The apology followed a meeting between Bishop Heenan, the sisters and the Neerkol Action Support Group.

At that meeting, the Bishop was told how distressed some victims had been about his letter to the Diocese describing the allegations about Neerkol as ‘scurrilous’ and ‘slanderous’.

At that meeting, Bishop Heenan apologised for the ‘tone of the letter’ and in February 1998, Bishop Heenan, on behalf of the Diocese, apologised to the former residents of Neerkol.

In that letter, Bishop Heenan also stated that he regretted not acknowledging those sufferings when they were first raised and that his first reaction was one of disbelief.

The hearing will continue next Monday. It is expected to conclude next week.

 

Update 64
Thursday 16 April 2015 Day 3

The Royal Commission today heard the evidence today of the final six former residents of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol outside of Rockhampton.

The day started with AYA, who was sent with her younger brother to live at Neerkol as a boarder in 1973 when she was 11.  She lived at the orphanage until 1974. She described her experiences including physical beatings by some of the sisters and indecent touching by Durham. She gave evidence that she was also sexually abused by another female resident.

David Owen was placed at the Orphanage when he was about five months old and lived there until 1954 when he was aged 15.

Mr Owen described the physical abuse he suffered, including being beaten with instruments and flogged with a whip. He told the Royal Commission that he was repeatedly sexually abused by Anderson at the Orphanage.  Mr Owen is now 76 years old.

AYD is now 82 years old. He was placed at the orphanage when he was very young along with his siblings.  AYD described the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of Tom Pattle, an employee of the Orphanage,. He also described sexual touching by Anderson.

AYD, along with Mary Adams, was instrumental in the establishment of the Neerkol Action Support Group (NASG) in 1997.  The NASG co-ordinated a class action for former residents seeking compensation from the Diocese of Rockhampton, the Sisters of Mercy and the Queensland Government.

In 1938, at the age of one, AYE was placed at St Joseph’s where he was physically punished by the sisters for minor matters. He said he was sexually abused by Anderson and Durham from the age of 9 or 10 until he was 12 or 13.  AYE also described being indecently touched by one of the sisters.

At the age of six AYK was placed in the orphanage as a ward of the State along with her sister, AYO.  She lived at the Orphanage until around 1978, when she was aged 13 years old.  It was at this time that the orphanage closed.  AYK told the Commission about the physical violence she received from the sisters and which she saw inflicted by the sisters on other children. She also described being sexually abused many times by Durham when aged seven or eight years old.

AYO who was placed at the orphanage when she was four and lived there until it closed in 1977.  AYO described physical abuse inflicted by the sisters and sexual abuse by Durham, which occurred when she was 14 or 15.

Many of the former residents who gave evidence talked about abuse by Father John Anderson. Anderson was parish priest at the Neerkol Parish from 1942 to 1964.   Prior to this position, Father Anderson had also worked as a parish priest at St Patrick’s at Mackay and St Ann’s.  Father Anderson died on 31 August 1986.  He was never charged, or convicted of any offence.

The Royal Commission has heard that many of the former residents did not tell anyone about the sexual abuse at the time because they were fearful they might be physically punished or ostracised. Others felt they had no-one to tell, and they did not think they would be believed if they tried to disclose.

In early 1997, the Sisters of Mercy formed a Professional Standards Steering Committee to co-ordinate their response and to facilitate the provision of assistance to former residents of Neerkol.  The role of the Professional Standards Steering Committee was to formulate processes and guides for the response to and prevention of child sexual abuse and present these to the Leadership Team of the Rockhampton Sisters of Mercy.

By March 1997, the Committee adopted a proactive approach and worked to actively seek out victims of abuse by publicising the existence of the Committee and the response coordinators.

From 1997, former residents of Neerkol received assistance from the sisters in addition to compensation payments.  The assistance included: counselling services, payment of phone or electricity bills, payment for medication, interest free loans and assistance in making applications for the Queensland Government redress scheme.

The total operating cost of the Sisters of Mercy Professional Standards Office from 1997 until February 2015 was at least $1.5 million, in addition to the lump sum payments of compensation made to the former residents in settlement of the class action.

The Dioses of Rockhampton has also provided some $600,000 in compensation payments.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

 

Update 63
Wednesday 15 April 2015 Day 2

The Royal Commission today heard the evidence of the final six former residents of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol outside of Rockhampton.

The day started with AYA, who was sent with her younger brother to live at Neerkol as a boarder in 1973 when she was 11.  She lived at the orphanage until 1974. She described her experiences including physical beatings by some of the sisters and indecent touching by Durham. She gave evidence that she was also sexually abused by another female resident.

David Owen was placed at the Orphanage when he was about five months old and lived there until 1954 when he was aged 15.

Mr Owen described the physical abuse he suffered, including being beaten with instruments and flogged with a whip. He told the Royal Commission that he was repeatedly sexually abused by Anderson at the Orphanage.  Mr Owen is now 76 years old.

AYD is now 82 years old. He was placed at the orphanage when he was very young along with his siblings.  AYD described the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of Tom Pattle, an employee of the Orphanage,. He also described sexual touching by Anderson.

AYD, along with Mary Adams, was instrumental in the establishment of the Neerkol Action Support Group (NASG) in 1997.  The NASG co-ordinated a class action for former residents seeking compensation from the Diocese of Rockhampton, the Sisters of Mercy and the Queensland Government.

In 1938, at the age of one, AYE was placed at St Joseph’s where he was physically punished by the sisters for minor matters. He said he was sexually abused by Anderson and Durham from the age of 9 or 10 until he was 12 or 13.  AYE also described being indecently touched by one of the sisters.

At the age of six AYK was placed in the orphanage as a ward of the State along with her sister, AYO.  She lived at the Orphanage until around 1978, when she was aged 13 years old.  It was at this time that the orphanage closed.  AYK told the Commission about the physical violence she received from the sisters and which she saw inflicted by the sisters on other children. She also described being sexually abused many times by Durham when aged seven or eight years old.

AYO who was placed at the orphanage when she was four and lived there until it closed in 1977.  AYO described physical abuse inflicted by the sisters and sexual abuse by Durham, which occurred when she was 14 or 15.

Many of the former residents who gave evidence talked about abuse by Father John Anderson. Anderson was parish priest at the Neerkol Parish from 1942 to 1964.   Prior to this position, Father Anderson had also worked as a parish priest at St Patrick’s at Mackay and St Ann’s.  Father Anderson died on 31 August 1986.  He was never charged, or convicted of any offence.

The Royal Commission has heard that many of the former residents did not tell anyone about the sexual abuse at the time because they were fearful they might be physically punished or ostracised. Others felt they had no-one to tell, and they did not think they would be believed if they tried to disclose.

In early 1997, the Sisters of Mercy formed a Professional Standards Steering Committee to co-ordinate their response and to facilitate the provision of assistance to former residents of Neerkol.  The role of the Professional Standards Steering Committee was to formulate processes and guides for the response to and prevention of child sexual abuse and present these to the Leadership Team of the Rockhampton Sisters of Mercy.

By March 1997, the Committee adopted a proactive approach and worked to actively seek out victims of abuse by publicising the existence of the Committee and the response coordinators.

From 1997, former residents of Neerkol received assistance from the sisters in addition to compensation payments.  The assistance included: counselling services, payment of phone or electricity bills, payment for medication, interest free loans and assistance in making applications for the Queensland Government redress scheme.

The total operating cost of the Sisters of Mercy Professional Standards Office from 1997 until February 2015 was at least $1.5 million, in addition to the lump sum payments of compensation made to the former residents in settlement of the class action.

The Dioses of Rockhampton has also provided some $600,000 in compensation payments.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

 

Update 62
Tuesday 15 April 2015 Day 1

The Royal Commission’s examination of the way in which the Sisters of Mercy, the Diocese of Rockhampton and the Queensland State Government responded to child sexual abuse perpetrated in St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol, started in Rockhampton today.

The public case study is inquiring into the experiences of a number of men and women who were resident at St Joseph’s Orphanage between 1940 and 1975.

It is also investigating the responses of the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton, and the Queensland State Government to complaints of sexual abuse by workers, priests and nuns at the orphanage.

During the hearing 13 former residents will give evidence, along with current institute leader of the Sisters of Mercy, Sr Berneice Loch, former congregational leader Di-Anne Rowan, former bishop of Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan and two representatives from the Queensland State Government.

The St Joseph’s Orphanage was opened by the Sisters of Mercy in 1885 and some 4,000 children, aged from newborn up to age 15 passed through its doors before it closed in 1978.

The hearing will also hear about allegations of abuse perpetrated by now deceased priests John Anderson and Reg Durham, and a former worker at the orphanage, Kevin Baker, who denies the allegations.

Anderson was deceased before complaints came to light.  In 1997 Durham was charged with 40 sexual offences perpetrated against six complainants.  In February 1999 he pleaded guilty to six counts of indecently dealing with a young girl and sentenced to 18 months’ jail.

Durham was also found guilty of one count of rape and sentenced to 7.5 years.  This conviction was overturned but Durham was found to be unfit to face a retrial on the basis of his mental health. He died in December 2008.

In her opening statement to the Royal Commission, Counsel Assisting, Sophie David SC said an earlier investigation into the orphanage conducted by Ms Leneen Forde in 1998-99, found it had been under-funded, under-staffed and required to take in children regardless of its resources.

She told the Commission the Forde Inquiry report had found the “setting of the orphanage inevitably gave rise to a closed community with a culture of its own, with the potential for abuse in circumstances where there was a perceived need for conformity and care givers were under stress”.

Ms David said the former residents would give evidence about the abuse they suffered.

The first survivor witness, AYB, told the Commission that as a young girl she had been abused by Durham well over 100 times over many years, after he had been befriended by her family.

At the end of her evidence she said that when she first approached the then bishop, Brian Heenan, she found herself frequently confronting him.

“Once he understood the enormity of the abuse, he offered ongoing support and friendship.  I am also very grateful for the pastoral care he gave to my mother before she passed away”.

AYB said she wished to acknowledge the goodness of the Sisters of Mercy of today who, she said, “have continually accepted and encouraged me as well as being supportive to so many people from Neerkol”.

“I want to acknowledge Bishop Michael McCarthy's commitment to do what he can to bring change.  As Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has said, we can only hope that a better church will come about one day and that is my wish too.”

Following AYB, Mary Adams gave evidence.

Ms Adams was placed at the Neerkol Orphanage when aged 9 months. When she was 13 she was made to leave school and work at Neerkol as a domestic helper until she left the orphanage. She remained at the orphanage until she was 18 and released from care.

Ms Adams said that during her time at the orphanage she was emotionally, physically and sexually abused.

She told the Royal Commission she had been physically beaten as a form of punishment, was slapped across the face, punched and dragged around by her hair by one of the nuns.

She also described having been sexually abused by a priest, Father John at the orphanage when she was about 12 years-old, and subsequently by another priest, Father Cahill, when she was billeted out to a home in Mackay during the holidays.

The hearing will resume tomorrow.  It has been scheduled to run for two weeks.

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