Abuse in care: faith-based institutions “acted to protect their own reputation”
When children suffered horrific abuse from the clergy, abusers were often encouraged to quit rather than punished, records were destroyed, survivors were in disbelief, and churches focused primarily on their reputation.
These are some of the damning findings related to abuse in faith-based institutions, contained in a 443-page interim report released Wednesday by the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care.
Although historical data on care and abuse are very poor, the royal commission estimated that approximately 205,000 people passed through residential faith-based care facilities between 1950 and 1999.
The voluminous report includes a careful examination of the appeals processes of 14 faith-based institutions, with a particular focus on the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Salvation Army.
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Since the start of 2020, the royal commission had heard from many survivors about the abuse they had suffered. He also reviewed evidence from church officials on their reparation processes, witnesses who did not testify orally, survivors who had private sessions, and documents received from churches and other entities in response to the complaints. formal notices to produce material.
In its findings, the commission says there have been significant obstacles for survivors to disclose the abuse and to demand accountability and redress. âHistorically, faith-based processes have not done enough to reduce or resolve these barriers. When abuses came to light, faith-based institutions often reacted with disbelief and acted to protect their own reputation and interests.
The commission found that people in religious ministry “were seen as close to God and incapable of doing evil.”
A life of “fear, shame and guilt”
Marc Sinclair, 54, grew up in Dunedin and suffered physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of Christian Brothers teacher Victor Sullivan and Desmond Fay, diocesan priest Father Kevin Kean and lay teacher Ian Thompson.
Sinclair was 9 years old when his father, older brother and grandfather all passed away in a short time. He attended St Edmund’s School, which was run by the Christian brethren. The punishment at school was brutal. Sinclair was often sent to the principal’s office for minor offenses where the principal, Brother Sullivan, sexually assaulted him almost every week.
When Sinclair moved to St Paul’s High School, also run by the Christian Brothers, he suffered physical and sexual abuse from Thompson. On one occasion, Sinclair was held back by older students while Thompson punched him. Thompson then gave him a cup of tea and offered him some âaspirinâ.
The next thing Sinclair remembered was waking up next to another student with his shorts unbuttoned. He was suffering from severe cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, and there was blood in his underwear.
The trauma left Sinclair with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), persistent depression, severe anxiety, and alcoholism. He tried to kill himself. The commission heard that the abuse continued to affect all aspects of his life and that he was “filled with fear, shame and guilt.”
Another survivor, identified only as Mrs. K, was abused by two Marist brothers, Brothers Michael Beaumont and Kevin Healy (known as Brother Gordon), in her Masterton home in 1977. Both were teachers at the her older brother’s school and active members of the local church and community.
In one incident, Elder Beaumont was invited to dinner at Mrs. K’s family home and everyone then gathered to pray. As everyone closed their eyes at the start of the prayers, he pulled Ms. K close to him and indecently assaulted her for the half hour it took everyone to say the Rosary.
Ms K was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression and, 18 years after reporting her abuse, still has not received a satisfactory offer of compensation.
“We have heard from several survivors that churches have responded to revelations of abuse by moving the abuser to another school or institution, or moving them abroad, or encouraging them to retire or resign without to have to answer for their acts “, indicates the report of the commission.
He found that most faith-based institutions’ responses to reports of abuse were inadequate, some because their processes prioritized the needs of the church over the needs of survivors. Survivors said they were treated with a lack of empathy, disbelieved, or played down their accounts.
Inconsistent results for survivors
The results were inconsistent and differed depending on the institution where the survivors had been abused, to whom they had applied and whether or not they could afford legal representation.
Compensation payments varied widely, from $ 5,000 to $ 60,000, with the Methodist Church offering the highest levels of compensation. Most of the survivors felt that their financial settlements were not enough to make up for the pain and suffering they had endured or to help them rebuild their lives.
Some survivors said they received a sincere apology, but many said no. The apologies were not sincere, did not genuinely acknowledge the abuse, and did not come from people with enough experience within the organization. In one case, an institution refused to issue an unconditional apology, apologizing instead “if the violation did occur”.
Few faith-based institutions offered any form of non-pecuniary reparation. Some institutions had required settlement agreements in which the survivor was not allowed to speak about the abuse or the circumstances leading up to the settlement.
Many survivors expressed frustration to the Royal Commission at the lack of accountability of the perpetrators and the organization. For some, justice was more important than reparation. The attackers were sometimes dead by the time survivors disclosed the abuse and made a claim, but survivors said they still wanted the institution involved to be recognized and held accountable.
Incentives to join the redress regime
The royal commission recommended that faith-based institutions phase out their current complaints processes once a program, puretumu torowhÄnui, is put in place by the Crown to assist survivors and their whÄnau.
While some faith-based institutions had previously indicated their intention to participate in the program for moral reasons, others would likely be less willing, the commission said.
âIn Australia, institutions that did not join Australia’s National Redress Scheme risked losing their charitable status, charitable tax breaks and government grants. The risk of such sanctions has motivated certain institutions to join the system.
The commission recommended that faith-based institutions be given four to six months to voluntarily join the program, and then the Crown should consider incentives to encourage participation and, failing that, force participation.
The commission is due to deliver its final report in June 2023.
In a statement, the Catholic Church said its bishops and leaders would closely study and consider how they could implement the report’s recommendations.
Sister Margaret Anne Mills, president of the Congregational Leaders Conference, said the church recognizes the harm suffered by survivors of abuse, as well as the actions proposed for redress.
âWe see the report as part of the vision to transform what we do today and into the future,â she said.
The Catholic Church said it has already made progress in improving its systems, for example by asking Te RÅpÅ« Tautoko (a body set up by the church to liaise with the royal commission) to create a âroad mapâ on how its response to reports of abuse in the church could be improved.