Helen Davidson; 10/12/13
There have been no meetings between the Brisbane facilitator of the Catholic church’s Towards Healing process and her interstate counterparts to discuss or ensure consistency across states in the treatment of victims of sexual abuse, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard.
On the second day of the public hearing examining the Towards Healing program, the commission heard from Bernadette Rogers, a state facilitator in charge of meetings between abuse victims and the church. Rogers is currently director of the Queensland professional standards office and was a facilitator for Towards Healing from 1997 to 2003 and again from 2010.
The church established Towards Healing in 1996 in response to complaints of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. It has been criticised for its processes, which are allegedly heavily influenced by the church insurance company, and it has been accused of looking after the church’s interests over victims.
The questioning addressed the differences in Towards Healing after it was revised in 2009 as well as the specifics surrounding the facilitation meetings with abuse victim Joan Isaacs.
In her facilitation meeting, Isaacs sought an apology, counselling and compensation for the abuse she suffered at the hands of Father Frank Derriman in 1967 and 1968. After lengthy negotiations she was paid a lump sum of $30,000 and payment for 10 counselling sessions, despite seeking about 10 times that amount, and said she signed a gag clause “under duress”.
Rogers revealed on Tuesday that she had never had a meeting with her Towards Healing colleagues around Australia to discuss consistency and fairness for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy, and she had no knowledge of payments or other outcomes reached in other states.
“The way Towards Healing is established, it’s independent in each individual state, so I answer to the Queensland liaison committee,” said Rogers, conceding that it was understandable if a victim got upset to find out that someone in another diocese received a larger compensation payment for similar levels of abuse.
Despite her role being central to the facilitation proceedings, Rogers said she did not see it as part of her role to make a judgment on the appropriateness of offers.
“I tried to focus on what were the needs of that particular complainant,” she said, adding that if they had no legal representation then “that was a role I took on for myself”.
However, she later told the legal representative for the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Peter Gray SC, that she did not believe it was part of her role to advise victims on the “pros and cons of any proposals that were being discussed” even when they had no legal representation present.
When questioned by commissioner Justice Peter McClellan on how the offer of 10 counselling sessions to Isaacs “met Ms Isaacs’ needs”, when she had already gone through decades of counselling and clearly needed more, Rogers responded: “I didn’t have a psychologist’s report available saying what her needs might be.”
McClellan reminded Rogers that she had earlier said her role was to focus on the needs of that particular complainant. “I’ve got no recollection of how Mrs Isaacs articulated her needs at the time,” Rogers said. “If she said that she needed counselling into the future then you would be right. I didn’t know what her ongoing needs would be and how often they would need to be reviewed.”
McClellan said he was “troubled by the apparent inconsistency” in Rogers’ statements, and suggested she could read the transcript during a break.
After a short adjournment, Rogers was shown a transcript of her earlier comments, to which she said that she did not think they were inconsistent. Rogers said she had known that Isaacs would need support in the future, but not specifically how many counselling sessions. Rogers also claimed no knowledge of any monetary limit to reparation payments by Towards Healing, but said the concept of reparations was “flexible” in the years post-revision, and counselling costs were factored into a lump sum.
“It was a process around telling a story and receiving an apology. In the later days reparation became something that was regularly addressed,” she said. “In the later facilitations there would be offers that went around counselling,” she added. On Monday, Isaacs gave testimony of the sexual abuse inflicted upon her as a teenager by Derriman, and the treatment she received from the Catholic church when she sought redress through Towards Healing.
The commission continues.