By PAUL DOBBYN
BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has described his recent appearance as witness at the Royal Commission hearings as “draining” but also encouraging.
“The experience made it clear to me that everyone involved, for all their differences of perspective, wants the same result – healing for victims, a safer world for children and a purified Church,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “The journey of the commission will be long; it will contain painful stories and legal processes in about equal measure. But the only way out is through.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been examining events in Brisbane archdiocese and other parts of the Queensland Church as examples of implementation of the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing protocols. Towards Healing was established in 1996 to respond to accusations of abuse by clergy.
The hearings, held in Sydney from December 9 to 20, have been examining how Towards Healing has dealt with victims of sexual abuse who approached Church officials. This has been done by examining four case studies connected to Queensland. The case studies have included that of Joan Isaacs who described to the royal commission being groomed for sex by former Sandgate priest Francis Derriman.
The commission also called for testimony from several Church leaders who had been involved with victims’ compensation claims from 1999 to 2001. These clergy included retired Bishop John Gerry and Fathers Adrian Farrelly and Jim Spence.
Not involved in the events of 1999, Archbishop Coleridge said he was summonsed “belatedly” and appeared on Wednesday, December 11.
“For myself and for others from the archdiocese who were witnesses, it involved a massive amount of preparation – reading many documents and talking to many people, to be ready for the commission’s questioning,” he said.
In his testimony at the Royal Commission hearing, the archbishop spoke of his concern that victims of clerical sexual abuse received full support from the Church towards recovery. He said it was “shocking that the Church be debating with people how to respond to the pain and suffering they have endured”.
Regarding Towards Healing protocols, the archbishop said: “I’ve been shocked at the unfortunate processes that have been upsetting people.
“My concern is always people need healing, and this is not helping,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge in his testimony also dealt with the archdiocese’s financial situation. He told the commission the archdiocese “has cash reserves of something like $30 million”.
The archbishop also said that every year “the archdiocese has a surplus that comes to us from the archdiocesan development fund – a surplus which was, last year, $22 million”.
“That money has to do many things,” he said. “But if the need were there and if I judged the need to be there, I could draw on those sources.”
Archbishop Coleridge also said “in the case of sexual abuse, given what a crucial issue it is and how great the need is, I would certainly be prepared to authorise payment for funds such as those”.
A Church spokesman later clarified how this money was used.
“The figures represent the archdiocese’s reserves for funding of a range of Church activities outside of education and welfare,” he said. “The funds cover such costs as employee entitlements, cathedral and other property maintenance provisions, foundations to support the establishment of new parishes, reserves for funding of church ministries and the general operation of archdiocese.”
The spokesman also discussed the archdiocesan development fund surplus.
“The majority of the archdiocese’s annual income comes from surplus generated by the Archdiocesan Development Fund,” he said. “The ADF generates a surplus through lending monies to church projects such as new schools and aged-care facilities and also makes a return on various investments. Most of this annual surplus is spent each year on the Church’s services and operations.”