TRUTH, Justice and Healing Commission chief executive officer Francis Sullivan has described “a heavy sense of despair (which) filled the Brisbane hearing rooms” as the Royal Commission concluded six days of hearings into sexual abuse at a Toowoomba Catholic primary school.
“The tragic case of 13 young girls abused … has been a miserable saga on every front,” he wrote on his blog on the TJHC website.
“The suffering and sense of tragedy and terror that families continue to live with over what happened to their daughters is palpable.
“These girls and their families were totally let down by the Catholic school system and their anger and frustration is completely understandable.”
Teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes was convicted and jailed on 44 child sexual abuse charges, including rape.
The offences occurred at the Toowoomba school in 2007-08.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse held the hearings in Brisbane from February 17-27.
The hearings, which called on witnesses including former Toowoomba Bishop Bill Morris, examined the responses of school authorities to complaints by victims and their parents.
Mr Sullivan said “the consequences and the fall-out of the tragic events in Toowoomba have impacted on the lives of so many”.
“Firstly, and most tragically, on the lives of the young girls who were abused.
“During the hearings teachers and staff who worked at the school, the Catholic Education Office and those that admitted failure and lack of insight, all spoke of their misery and sense of devastation about the case.”
Mr Sullivan acknowledged parents throughout the country with children attending Catholic schools might “question the ability of the Catholic education system to adequately care for their children”.
“To regain confidence, it is incumbent on all Catholic school authorities to not only assure parents that better systems and compliance are in place to protect their children, but that those systems are regularly and routinely checked,” he said.
The commission continued hearings in Sydney from February 26 to March 3 into the response of authorities to allegations of sexual abuse at the Parramatta Girls’ Training School and the Institution for Girls in Hay, NSW, between 1950 and 1974.
The Catholic Church will be the focus of the commission from March 10 in Sydney as it examines the response of the Church to the complaint of child sexual abuse made by John Ellis under the Towards Healing process.