Helen Davidson ; 11/12/13
A retired bishop of Brisbane has told the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse that it “didn’t cross [his] mind” to question a priest who had allegedly told a teenage girl to “look for someone your own age” when she reported that another priest had sexually abused her.
Bishop John Gerry, the former representative for the Brisbane archdiocese in Towards Healing facilitation meetings with victims of sexual abuse by clergy, was giving evidence in the public hearing examination of Towards Healing’s dealings with Joan Isaacs, a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of priest Frank Derriman in the 1960s when she was 15 and 16.
The commission had heard on Monday that Isaacs and her mother went to Father Martin Doyle, then parish priest of Zillmere, in 1968 and showed him a letter Derriman had written to her. Isaacs said in her statement that Doyle’s response, which included a suggestion that “it is time for you to look for someone your own age”, made her feel “really ashamed”.
Derriman was transferred to another parish shortly after Isaacs met with Doyle. Derriman maintained a relationship with another victim, who subsequently bore his child, according to Isaacs. After Derriman was convicted in 1998 of sexually abusing Isaacs, Isaacs sought redress through Towards Healing.
After seeing documents from Isaacs referring to the 1968 meeting, “it didn’t cross my mind,” to question Doyle, said Gerry, who added that he assumed Doyle had simply “completely misunderstood” Isaacs. Gerry said he did not think that was cause enough to speak to Doyle, who was recovering from a stroke. “I didn’t see the value in going back over what had happened 30 years before,” he said.
The lawyer for the Catholic church’s truth justice and healing council, Peter Gray, put to Gerry that there was nothing in Isaacs’ statement to suggest that she “reported to Father Doyle what Derriman’s conduct to her had actually been.”
A 1998 statement to police by Doyle said that he remembered Isaacs being “involved in these allegations of Derriman being over friendly with girls” but did not recall being alerted to “molestation or sexual activity.” Doyle said he passed on the information to his superiors and believed Derriman was called to meet with the archbishop at the time.
In March 1999, Isaacs met with the Rev Adrian Farrelly, who replaced Gerry because he was recovering from surgery. It was revealed earlier that Farrelly had no authority to offer compensation or an apology – two of the outcomes she was seeking along with counselling.
After the meeting Gerry – who had been briefed by Farrelly – sent her a letter of apology. “I write now in this capacity to say how sorry I am for what you suffered at the hands of Frank. Derriman who was a priest of the Archdiocese at the time. “You were taken advantage of in a most shameful way,” wrote Gerry.“The response made at the time was less than you could have rightly expected,” he added. “You have been let down badly by those from whom you had every right to expect more.”
Under questioning from Furness, Gerry said that the “let down” he was likely referring to was the “misunderstanding” from Doyle, but he could not specifically recall. Gerry also told the hearing that he had no involvement or knowledge of compensation negotiations between Towards Healing and Isaacs, and that his role was to provide pastoral care only. Compensation payments were made by Catholic Church Insurance (CCI) and dealt with by the archbishop, John Bathersby.
In a transcript of a phone conversation between Isaacs and Gerry in 2000 tendered as evidence, Gerry told Isaacs that he had no control over compensation because “it was a legal matter,” and that he was “not at liberty to use the assets of the archdiocese.”
Senior counsel assisting Gail Furness suggested that Gerry knew this statement was incorrect and the church could have used the assets of the archdiocese, revealed on Tuesday to be worth around $154m in one development fund alone. “It was an area of the responsibility of the church that was not mine,” said Gerry. However Gerry had accessed the fund to pay Isaacs’ counselling fees before CCI reimbursed them.
When questioned by commissioner Justice Peter McClellan on the responsibility of the church for the abuse of children by members of its clergy, Gerry responded that the church “shares the shame” but not the responsibility, “because individuals are not responsible for somebody elses culpability.”
McClellan pushed with questions he had previously put to Father Adrian Farrelly and the Rev James Spence on Tuesday, on whether the church bore responsibility for the actions of abusive priests because the institution encouraged and facilitated engagement between children and clergy, and presented themselves as a place of sacred trust.
“The question is ‘what is the church’. The church has a tremendous variety of realities,” responded Gerry. “The church that’s formed this trust is made up, over the centuries, of priests, of parents, of teachers, of religious, [it’s] not an institutional thing. It’s a people thing.”
The hearing continues.