TWO Newcastle men were linked in the last minutes of the 57th and final public hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Friday.
Steve Smith and John Pirona were both sexually abused as children – Mr Smith by an Anglican clergyman and Mr Pirona by a Catholic priest.
Mr Pirona’s suicide in 2012 was the catalyst for a campaign that led to the royal commission. In the final words of evidence on Friday Mr Smith thanked the commission on behalf of survivors, and those like Mr Pirona who have not survived.
“For the opportunity to be able to finally have my voice heard, I thank you. On behalf of those who haven’t survived, I also thank you,” said Mr Smith, 55, whose appalling treatment by Newcastle Anglican diocese after he sought help as an adult led to some of the most shocking evidence at a public hearing in Newcastle in August.
Royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan thanked six survivors, and the sister of a child with a disability who was sexually abused, for their evidence at the final hearing session, and praised the courage of many survivors who had given evidence since the first commission hearing in September, 2013.
“We started with the voice of survivors. It’s important that we finish with your voices,” he said.
The final witnesses told the commission of their hopes for the future and demands of governments, churches, politicians and community leaders.
Mr Smith called for strict legal and financial penalties for institutions and individuals who do not comply with mandatory reporting of all child sexual abuse, both current and historic. The penalties should include “withdrawal of tax exemptions and concessions for the institutions involved”.
Mr Smith and survivor Damian De Marco said institutions could not be left to investigate child sex allegations anymore.
“Institutions must be subordinated in all respects to civil law. No exceptions. No exemptions,” Mr De Marco said.
He was highly critical of the “intimate relationship” between church and state in Australia, and “some of our highest leaders (who) still have allegiances to institutions that prevail over their responsibilities to state”.
“This epidemic of institutional cover-up also happened because of the massive failure of Australia’s secular leaders. A two-tiered society was allowed to operate, where one class of people was protected from criminal accountability. The rights of our children came second. Allegiance to church, not state, prevailed,” Mr De Marco said.
The abuse of children was “without doubt Australia’s number one health and welfare problem; not smoking or drinking”, he said.
In the final days of the public hearing in Sydney the royal commission heard evidence from Australian and international experts about the permanent, and sometimes generational, damage caused by child sexual abuse.
Social worker Karen Hogan, of the Gatehouse Centre at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, told the royal commission of treating children as young as three who had been sexually abused. The mothers of more than 70 per cent of children treated at the centre had also been sexually abused, the commission was told.
American trauma therapist Dr Bruce Perry said sexual abuse during childhood left people with a “much higher” likelihood of experiencing major health and social problems as adults.
“There are physical and psychological changes that take place in the body and brains of people who have had histories of sexual abuse,” Dr Perry said.
The royal commission has held 6500 private hearings since 2013, with another 2000 people to attend private hearings until December.
Hearings considered evidence about child sexual abuse involving public and private schools, detention centres, out of home care, churches, orphanages, government bodies, defence establishments, sporting clubs, after school care, dance and performing arts academies, institutions providing services for children with disability, scouts, health care providers and a yoga ashram.
It investigated “almost insurmountable barriers” facing sexual assault victims in the criminal justice system, and systemic failures by government departments across the country tasked with protecting children.
Justice McClellan said the royal commission expected to present a significant report on criminal justice reforms to governments in August, and its final report to Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove on December 15.
In evidence at the Newcastle hearing in August Mr Smith was known by the pseudonym CKA. Just before Christmas the Anglican priest he said raped him, George Parker, was charged with 24 child sex offences against two boys in the 1970s, including Mr Smith who was 10 when he was first abused. The priest died three weeks later.
Mr Smith, a former church employee, warned the diocese from 1984 that “You’ve got a network of these bastards preying on altar boys”. He said he “named names”.
The royal commission heard damning evidence of serial child sex offenders protected by senior clergy and lay church members, which only changed after business manager John Cleary was appointed.
“Unfortunately for John, he was still stuck with the same - I use the term - mob of crooks above him,” Mr Smith told the royal commission.