IN August 2012 I wrote to every state and federal politician in Australia.
I urged them to support the rising wave of community insistence that formal inquiries into child abuse be established.
I implored them to do as much research on the issue of childhood sexual assault by clergy as possible and asked them if they could be certain that our children are now safe.
I noted “History will record the courage of those who stand up on this issue and will condemn those who do not.”
I received six responses – two supporting me, three saying they would get back to me and one from premier Barry O’Farrell insisting there was no need for an inquiry.
I will allow history to judge my prediction.
In the commentary that will follow the publication of the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry report into child sexual abuse allegations in the Hunter Region, do not let yourself be convinced that it is thanks to politicians that we have got this far.
Most – with notable exceptions such as then prime minister Julia Gillard, NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper and a few determined politicians in Victoria – have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into establishing, then supporting, the Victorian parliamentary inquiry, the NSW special commission of inquiry and the federal Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Even in recent days we have seen disappointing “politicking” around the most universally supported public inquiry process ever undertaken in this country.
There is an old proverb which says “There are none so blind as those who will not see ... the most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.” If ever there was a statement which accurately describes our politicians on the issue of child abuse, this is it.
As to the findings of the NSW Special Commission, I will leave it to others to analyse the specifics. Many people will feel vindicated.
Others may feel hard done by and others still may be frustrated that the report in some important respects does not “name names” – that the main game of determining whether there was a so-called “cover up” within the Catholic Church has not been adequately addressed.
I am of the view that perhaps the most important part of the report is contained in the portion which has not yet been released to the public.
Commissioner Margaret Cuneen and counsel assisting made it plain in the earliest moments of the commission that hearings were taking place in the context of an on-going police investigation and that the evidence of some witnesses would necessarily be taken “in-camera” (without media or public present) “so as not to prejudice by pre-trial publicity any potential future criminal proceedings or influence any evidence witnesses might give at any such proceedings.”
For now we can only wonder whether Commissioner Cuneen has made confidential findings which are of interest to the NSW Police and to the Department of Public Prosecutions, and what those findings might be.
It is also worth remembering that Commissioner Cuneen has expressed the view that in the fullness of time, the entire report should be released.
The part of the report which is available to the public contains serious findings as well as things which were stunning the moment evidence was uttered.
Things such as a file on a paedophile priest one “could not jump over” but into which no-one had ever delved; admissions that one priest questioning suspected paedophiles deliberately did not take notes so there was no chance of use in later criminal proceedings; a briefcase of secret information sitting unopened in the corner of the Bishop’s office, and revelations by a Catholic “canon law” expert that the church has had procedures for dealing with paedophile priests for over 400 years.
Also noteworthy was the description of the brief of evidence prepared by Strike Force Lantle Detective Jeff Little as “one of the best ever seen” by a senior police witness.
Finally a word about the Special Commission of inquiry team. I am not sure how this group of people was brought together, but it was either an act of genius or a gift from Jesus, because it would be difficult to imagine a more professional or thorough group of people.
No stone left unturned in pursuit of their brief, and no effort spared in getting the job done properly. Congratulations and thank you to them and to all those who “stood up” on this issue.
Passion for justice has won out over indifference.
Peter Gogarty is a Hunter Valley resident and a clergy abuse victims advocate