THE following is a response to Gabriel Wingate-Pearse’s opinion piece (‘‘Compassion, and so on’’ Herald, 23/6) .
I acknowledge that as the manager of Zimmerman Services, the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s child protection service, I am biased. It’s not my intent to comment on the Right Reverend Greg Thompson, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle. Nor am I defending the eloquence, or otherwise, of Catholic Bishop Bill Wright and his introduction of Francis Sullivan on February 25, 2015.
Critical analysis of the diocese’s commitment to protecting children and working to address its terrible legacy of historic child sexual abuse is legitimate and important. I acknowledge our performance to date is not perfect.
However, I believe the article’s premise is unfair. Its argument is that a poor introduction by Bishop Bill at a public forum equates to a lack of commitment or leadership in addressing such issues. Shouldn’t such criticism be based on a more comprehensive consideration of words and deeds?
In my first meeting with Bishop Bill in 2011, he wanted a comprehensive briefing on the diocese’s issues of child abuse. I left absolutely certain of the bishop’s capacity and determination to lead the diocese and do everything reasonable to promote healing and to cooperate and actively support the exposure and investigation of past crimes, whilst working to maximise protection of children and minimise future risk.
Bishop Bill has maintained and strengthened three key commitments made by Emeritus Bishop Michael Malone:
1. The establishment of Zimmerman Services. Without the wholehearted support of Bishop Bill and the diocese’s senior leadership, such an entity would struggle to survive, let alone operate effectively.
2. Maintenance of an ‘‘open files’’ policy for police inquiries into child sexual assault. Zimmerman Services provides appropriate, professional relations with police and practices full disclosure of criminal allegations, including identifying information relating to abusers, victims or witnesses, i.e. no ‘‘blind reporting’’.
3. Not using or threatening to use technical defences when survivors seek to obtain damages. The diocese has been recognised by some of the more trenchant critics of the church in relation to these matters, including Dr Andrew Morrison (SC), for not using the so-called ‘‘Ellis Defence’’.
Bishop Bill has publicly championed the importance of the diocese’s openness about past failures to protect children. Two particularly significant statements epitomise his wholehearted and enduring commitment. On November 20, 2012, he said in relation to the announcement of the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:
‘‘... It’s healthy to have to face up to what you have done, to confess the wrong, to stiffen up your resolve that these things must not happen again. There can be no great change while we hide the truth, and especially when we choose to hide it from ourselves. That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for institutions.
‘‘... My hope is that after the royal commission there will be no more conspiracy of silence around child abuse, no more blaming the victim, no more resigned acceptance that it’s going to happen. These would be great outcomes. If the church has to take a battering along the way, so be it. In the meantime, we in the church must strive to the utmost to help the royal commission do its job.’’
On July 1, 2013, in a public hearing at the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into matters relating to the police investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations, Bishop Bill made an extraordinary acknowledgement and apology:
‘‘... My apology must begin with an acknowledgement of the wrongs done ...
‘‘I acknowledge that these sexual predators used their position in the diocese to gain access to these children and to conceal their acts.
‘‘I acknowledge that the children, so abused, sometimes suffered further hurt when they were not believed because the offender was the priest. I acknowledge that when matters were reported, church authorities sometimes failed to act, or to act effectively, either to support abused children and their families or to ensure that other children were protected from abuse by those offenders in the future.
‘‘... I acknowledge that the abuse perpetrated by [priests Denis] McAlinden and [James] Fletcher, exacerbated on occasion by the failures of church leaders, caused real and enduring harm to those children who were abused, to their families, and to many others who have been affected by this sorry history in their community.’’
If you’re going to criticise a man, criticise him for all he’s said and done or failed to do, not for an impression drawn from one brief introduction.
Sean Tynan is manger of Zimmerman Services, the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s child protection service.