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Church determined the truth be told

AS the Church announced members of the council that will oversee its engagement with the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane has reaffirmed his commitment to working with the commission.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Denis Hart and Catholic Religious Australia president Sister of Charity Annette Cunliffe announced the members of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council (TJHC) on Tuesday (April 2).

The TJHC will oversee the Church’s engagement with the Royal Commission.

Council chief executive officer Francis Sullivan welcomed the announcement saying the 13-member council was made up of men and women with professional and other expertise, especially across child sexual abuse, paedophilia, trauma, mental illness, suicide and public policy.

“The Church and members of the TJHC are determined that the truth be told and that the Church assists victims and those damaged by abuse as children receive justice and to embark on a sustainable process of healing,” Mr Sullivan said.

“Councillors have been chosen for their obvious expertise and their willingness to give frank and independent advice.

“This council will guide the Church as it goes through the Royal Commission, and will approach the task with openness and compassion.

“We accept that the Royal Commission may well reveal embarrassing and shameful episodes from our past, but it is necessary in order for the truth to heal and for the community to see that our engagement is genuine and sincere.

“Our task also involves advising the Church on the best practice changes to protect children and prevent sexual abuse.

“This is a crucial task as the Church demonstrates through its actions that the welfare and safety of children are the highest priority.”

The council will hold its first meeting in Sydney in mid-April.

In a statement before Easter, Archbishop Coleridge, who is one of two bishop members of the council, said he was “wholly committed to working with the council and indeed the commission to uncover systematic institutional failures in the area of child protection, to promote healing for the survivors of abuse, and to identify and implement measures required to prevent the abuse of the young in the future”.

“The Church has welcomed the Royal Commission and has pledged full co-operation,” he said.

“It is not only the Catholic Church that will be in the spotlight; other religious communities and government and non-government institutions will also face the confronting truth about the abuse and about how society – and the Church – has responded so poorly to what has happened.

“In the time ahead, we will be grieved and sorely challenged by much that the Royal Commission will bring to light.

“Yet the truth must be known as far as possible, however upsetting this may be.

“As a community, we need to confront without a trace of denial or defensiveness the truth of both the abuse and our response to it.

“As I said to the clergy last year, the only way forward now is to face the full horror of what has happened, and to do so humbly and courageously as a people of faith.

“We can never forget that the deepest hurt has been suffered by those abused and their families.

“As a Church, we commit ourselves to do all that we can not only to bring the truth to light but also to bring justice and healing to those who have been abused.”

The council will be chaired by Justice Barry O’Keefe QC, a former commissioner of NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, former Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW and chairman of Interpol’s International Group of Experts on Corruption.

Other council members are:

  • Retired magistrate in the Children’s Court in Western Australia Dr Sue Gordon, who was an inaugural commissioner on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and chaired the Inquiry into the Response by Government Agencies to Complaints of Family Violence and Child Abuse in Aboriginal Communities in Western Australia in 2002.
  • Senior Research Fellow in the Social Work and Social Policy School at the University of Western Australia Professor Maria Harries, who has extensive experience in study related to child abuse and has numerous publications in the area of child protection/public policy.
  • Jack Heath, who is chief executive officer of Sane Australia, a mental health advocacy organisation for people suffering mental illness, and in 1997 he founded the Inspire Foundation with the idea of using the Internet to prevent youth suicide.
  • Associate Professor Rosemary Sheehan, who works in Department of Social Work at Monash University, has 17 years’ experience in dispute resolution in the Children’s Court of Victoria, and has served on the Victorian Women’s Correctional Services Advisory Committee and Child Death Review Committee.
  • Greg Crafter, who was admitted as a legal practitioner of the Supreme Court of South Australia in 1978, and is a former Minister in the South Australian Government having held the portfolios of Community Welfare, Aboriginal Affairs and Education and Children’s Services.
  • Brigidine Sister Maree Marsh, a former congregational leader of the Brigidine Sisters who chairs ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) and is a psychologist at Anti-Slavery Aust-ralia. She has a doctorate in Ministry from Boston University and has researched processes adopted for managing disclosures of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese and studied documents developed by the Canadian bishops as an outcome of sexual abuse that took place in that country in the 1970s and 1980s. Her professional expertise involves support for women who have experienced clerical sex abuse.
  • Lawyer and academic and Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven.
  • Bank of Melbourne chair, Nestlé Australia chair and Perpetual director Elizabeth Proust, who is former Secretary to the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet (1995-97) after previously being Secretary of the Department of Attorney General.
  • Catholic Education Office Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder, who was Parliamentary Secretary for Education in the Victorian Government from 1992-99 with responsibility for professional standards issues, and has a background in teaching and community work, with extensive knowledge of the administrative functions of the Church and related organisations.
  • Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Marian Sullivan, who has 30 years’ clinical experience with the consequences of childhood trauma and abuse. She is a former member of the Queensland Medical Board dealing with issues of professional misconduct, boundary violations and professional regulation.

Apart from Archbishop Coleridge, the other bishop member is Bishop Bill Wright of Maitland-Newcastle.


Written by: Staff writers
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