Communications

 

Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry:

 

ORDER GRILLED AT VICTORIAN PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY


Br Timothy Graham, the serving Provincial of the Brothers of St John of God in the Oceania region, was the first of a number of Catholic leaders to present before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations.

From 10am until after midday on Monday 29 April, 2013, Br Timothy and Ms Rosanna Harris, Chair of the Order's Professional Standards Committee who accompanied him, were intensively questioned on historical practices and procedures in general, actions and reactions to instances of sexual abuse of children in Victoria in particular.

It was acknowledged, in its comprehensive written Presentation and by Br Timothy and Ms Harris in person, that "we painfully accept allegations of criminal abuse that stretch back to the 1950s".

Br Timothy said "we shamefully acknowledge the great harm that was perpetrated by some of our members - all our (current) Brothers live daily the shame of the devastating harm that was wreaked in the lives of some of the vulnerable children in our care".

A Spanish Catholic Order by origin, the Brothers of St John of God were established in Australia at the end of the second world war, opening their first residential school for intellectually disabled boys - boys that no mainstream school at the time catered for - at Cheltenham in 1953, moving to new premises at Greensborough in 1967.

From 1953 until its closure, when the school and surrounding property was acquired for the development of Southland shopping centre, 330 boys were admitted to the St John of God Training Centre, Cheltenham.

Subsequently, from July 1967 until its closure in 1990, 359 students were admitted to Churinga Special School, Greensborough.

It was in 1997 that a member of the staff in Victoria identified during therapy with clients the possibility of improper conduct in the past.  The Order immediately began a thorough investigation, including notifying the Victoria Police who also commenced what would become a lengthy and comprehensive investigation - but one which did not result in any criminal charges being laid. 

From then until the present time 31 complaints have been settled civilly in Victoria.
Comprising these 31 cases and given the intellectually-impaired nature of the clientele were allegations of abuse where there were no details of an offender, no description of the offender and the offending conduct was not described amongst other complaints where the identity of the perpetrator and the offending conduct were clearly articulated.

All complaints were during the period 1954-1985.
Of more than 60 Brothers who have served in Victoria, 24 Brothers - many since ex-Brothers and others deceased - were the subject of complaints of historical sexual and/or physical abuse at one or both Cheltenham and Greensborough residential schools.

Br Timothy and Ms Harris denied the Order in those early days had been targeted by paedophiles, stating that from the intense and exhaustive investigations undertaken by the Order over the last 15-20 years, there was no evidence that the Brothers who had allegations made against them had acted in any way in concert with each other.

Ms Harris said that "an objective examination of our data - every document of which had already been provided to the Inquiry - will refute that as it will be clear from such an examination that the Brothers who offended operated independently".

Br Timothy also assured the Inquiry there had definitely been no cover up by St John of God, stating categorically that "the Order had been stripped to the bone by media investigations" while initiating so much of the media coverage itself by opening itself to them.

The St John of God Brothers' 'mission' in recent years had been dealing openly, honestly, compassionately and justly with victims of abuse, their families, carers and friends.  Whilst there may not have been a contemporaneous investigation of the system which operated in the Order during the 1950s-1970s, the Order had moved out of residential education and care after the Victorian allegations surfaced.  In addition, there had been no new vocations in the Order in Australasia until this year, when St John of God Brothers from the province of Vietnam had sought to move to Australia to help, particularly in palliative nursing care, in the large Vietnamese communities here. 

Ms Harris echoed the feelings and statements of Br Timothy when she said: "We accept sadly that there were a number of complaints and that vulnerable children in our care were damaged and for that we apologised and we continue to do so - we are horrified".

Coincidentally, in the same week the Victorian Government released its own study "Victoria's Vulnerable Children - Our Shared Responsibility", which reveals that almost one in twelve Victorian children are known to be vulnerable due to abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents or carers.

 

 

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PRESENTATION BY
THE HOSPITALLER ORDER OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD

 

TO THE VICTORIAN PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY INTO
THE HANDLING OF CHILD ABUSE BY RELIGIOUS
AND OTHER NON-GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONS


26 April 2013

 

INTRODUCTION

  1. On behalf of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God we welcome the opportunity to appear before the Committee. We are hopeful that this submission will be of some assistance in the Committee’s deliberations.
  2. With great sorrow we unreservedly accept that between 1954 and the mid 1 980s there were members of our Order who physically and sexually abused people in their care. Their actions were a serious betrayal of the trust of those in their care. Their actions were also a betrayal of all that our Order stands for. Their actions are a matter of great shame for us. For all of this we apologise.
  3. We wish to describe how we have responded to these terrible abuses and what we have done to ensure that the past is not repeated.

BACKGROUND TO THE ORDER AND ITS WORK IN VICTORIA

  1. The Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God was founded in Spain in 1550 and was established in Australia in 1947. Our members are devoted to charitable works, particularly the care of the sick and dying, the support of those with mental health issues and those members of our society living with disabilities.
  2. In 1953 our Order commenced Saint John of God Training Centre, a residential special school at Cheltenham which catered for school aged boys with learning disabilities and associated behavioural and psychiatric conditions. In 1967 we transferred the school to more modern facilities at Greensborough and renamed it “Churinga Special School’. The Order operated the Churinga Special School until 1990 when it closed in response to changing government policy and funding issues. Following the closure of the Churinga Special School, we developed services in conjunction with the State Government of Victoria to support the day placement and community access needs of adults with intellectual disabilities.
  3. In 1957 the Order established Yarra View in Lilydale, a post-school rural residential centre for adult males with learning disabilities. Yarra View also served as an employment based centre for students graduating from the Saint John of God Training Centre, Cheltenham. Yarra View adopted a sheltered workshop and farming model that was common for its time. At the beginning of the 1 980s Yarra View embraced the de-institutionalisation of services for adults and provided community residential placement and support, employment, recreation and leisure opportunities for its clients.
  4. The Order also conducted a small residential and support service at Mentone known as “Raelene”. This service and its outreach catered for adults seeking supported employment, as well as respite services. This service was taken over by THE Department of Community Services, South Eastern Region in 1989.
  5. The Committee is requested by its Terms of Reference to inquire into the responses to the criminal abuse of children. As such, in this document we focus on the clients and services associated with the Saint John of God Training Centre, Cheltenham and the Churinga Special School from 1953 to 1990.
  6. Whilst this Inquiry does not address allegations of abuse against adults, we welcome and encourage a specific review of the institutional care and support of adults with intellectual disabilities in both government and non-government facilities, whether at a state or national level, with specific reference to professional standards issues.

ALLEGATION DATA

  1. Our records show that:
    1. from 1953 to its closure, 330 residents were admitted at Saint John God Training Centre, Cheltenham; and
    2. from July 1967 to its closure in 1990, 359 students were admitted at Churinga Special School, Greensborough.
  2. Our review of cases shows that the majority of offenders entered the Order in the 1950’s and offended in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The most recent event which has been the subject of an allegation was in 1985.
  3. We have received 31 complaints of professional misconduct of a sexual or physical nature against members of our Order relating to children. The allegations relate to the period between 1954 and the mid I980s.
  4. The 31 allegations relating to children encompass a broad range of allegations, ranging from:
    1. allegations in which the identity of the perpetrator and the offending conduct are clearly articulated; to
    2. allegations where there are no details of an offender, no description of an offender and the offending conduct is not described.
  5. Nevertheless, we include all such matters in the total number of 31 complaints.
  6. Within the State of Victoria twenty-four members of the Order have been the subject of a complaint of historical sexual and/or physical abuse.
  7. Of the twenty-four Brothers subject to allegations of historical sexual abuse, eight are deceased; nine left the Order some decades ago, and seven remain members of the Order.
  8. The seven who remain members of the Order are elderly (one has dementia), are not engaged in ministry of any form, and are supervised within the structures of Religious Life, and the policies and procedures of the Towards Healing process.
  9. Of the thirty-one reported cases of criminal abuse, twenty (20) individuals chose to report their allegations to Victoria Police, two (2) chose not to report, and we have no information regarding the course of action taken by the other nine (9) complainants.
  10. As part of the complaints management process the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God has always urged complainants to report allegations of criminal abuse to the police.
  11. The allegations in relation to the Victorian institutes, which began to emerge in 1993 were the subject of a rigorous police investigation conducted by the Lilydale Crime Investigation Unit. The Order instigated that investigation itself. A great deal of written material was made available to the police through the St John of God Services Office in Victoria. Soon after the Lilydale police began their investigation, the Province CEO, at the time Ms Pauline Du Ritz met with the then-Deputy Police Commissioner. Ms Du Ritz requested that the investigation be conducted by more senior officers, because of the complexity created by the intellectual disabilities of our clients. Ms Du Ritz assured the Deputy Commissioner of full cooperation of the Order with police. Several Brothers were interviewed by Lilydale police at this time. Search warrants were also executed in New South Wales.
  12. Ultimately, the police issued formal written advice in September 2004 to the effect that no charges were to be laid in relation to those complaints. This letter has been previously included in documentation provided to the Parliamentary Inquiry.
  13. Within the context of this Inquiry, and claims that have been made by the police and others, we therefore want to stress that the abuse allegations relating to Cheltenham and Churinga were investigated by Victoria Police between 1997 and 2004 and that as a result of that investigation, no criminal charges were laid against any member of the Order.
  14. At all times we have taken any allegation of criminal misconduct involving a member of our Order very seriously. When a complaint was made, we objectively, and with natural justice and procedural fairness, assessed the claim. In all cases, even where there was no corroborative support for the complaint, and/or strenuous denials and/or allegations that were fundamentally inconsistent with the existing evidence as we understood it, every effort was made to deal with the complainant with compassion, patience and justice.

OUR RESPONSE TO ABUSE ALLEGATIONS - COMPLAINTS MANAGEMENT MODEL

  1. Following the receipt of complaints in or about 1997, discussions took place between our solicitors and the Villamanta Intellectual Rights Service as to the best way to proceed with legal representation for the complainants. Our solicitors approached Mr Peter Gordon from Slater & Gordon Solicitors and requested that he act on behalf of a group of residents who had come forward with complaints, which he agreed to do. Two (2) settlements were arrived at with two groups of claimants. The first class action included nine (9) child related cases. The second class action included eleven (11) cases. Following the settlement of the class actions, Mr Gordon went on the public record about the way in which the Order had approached the settlement of the actions. His comments are set out in the extract from The Age newspaper on 13 June 2002, the text of which is attached.
  2. In respect of the settlement of these cases with Slater & Gordon’s clients, the approach taken acknowledged the difficulties with such historic claims, particularly in cases of intellectual disability, and every effort was made to ensure that a fair, just and compassionate resolution was achieved.
  3. When in the early 1990s a series of complaints of sexual abuse of children by our members came to light, we sought advice from an American based expert, Dr Robert Grant. In 1997 the Provincial, that is the head of the Order, at that time, established an advisory committee to assist him to deal with these complaints. This committee was multidisciplinary and comprised independent members of the psychiatric, psychological, academic and legal professions, together with representatives of the Order and other Religious Congregations with expertise in the handling of complaints of professional misconduct. During this time Ms Michelle Mulvihill was appointed to conduct complaint management and similar services for the Order. Ms Mulvihill played a critical role assisting in the management of complaints during a difficult period in which there had been two major class action settlements extending to most of the Victorian complainant group.
  4. The complaints made with a concurrent significant Police investigation posed many challenges to the Order. Most of the complainants and the persons cared for in our Victorian Institutes suffered from intellectual, behavioural and/or psychiatric disabilities.
  5. At the time, Towards Healing was in its infancy and certainly not set up to deal with a civil class action type of process. Further, we were concerned that in its early stages Towards Healing’s procedures, which involve direct dealings with each victim, were not well suited for claimants with intellectual and other disabilities, who were well represented by Peter Gordon.
  6. As a result, we developed adjunct guidelines to the Towards Healing protocol to assist with the specific practical application of the Order’s response to complaints of sexual abuse. These guidelines represent the experience and developing praxis of the Order over the preceding years.
  7. At all times, the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God has pursued and provided procedural fairness, objective assessment of claims, a humble, compassionate and listening response and independent legal representation for each complainant in its handling of allegations of historical criminal abuse. The costs of each complainant’s legal representation have been borne by the Order as part of any mediated, civil settlement.
  8. Following my appointment as Provincial in 2007 and the resignation of Ms Mulvihill, in 2007 a specialist consulting group that works with government and non-government organisations, Westwood Spice, undertook an independent audit of the Order’s professional standards protocols and praxis.
  9. All requested documents relating to claims and Westwood Spice’s report have been provided to the Committee.

RESPONSES TO SPECIFIC ALLEGATIONS.

  1. In its submission to this Parliamentary Inquiry, Broken Rites (Australia) Collective Inc. makes allegations which we refute vigorously. We are greatly troubled that unsubstantiated claims were reported by the media as fact. This has seriously damaged the reputation of the Order. It has caused great personal distress to members of the Order, staff and clients of the services provided by Saint John of God Healthcare, and members of the broader community.
  2. One claim made by Broken Rites is that two students sustained injuries that probably resulted in death. One of these students was allegedly thrown down a staircase at the Yarra View farm. The Order strenuously refutes this allegation. This is a serious allegation and if Broken Rites has evidence to support this claim then it should be immediately reported to the police. The Order has no documentary evidence, or any knowledge of any statement, or representation, or approach from any person which would support or even suggest that this allegation is correct. Nor did the Department of Human Services disclose any knowledge of these matters in reply to enquiries we made of it immediately following the making of the allegation.
  3. Another claim made by Broken Rites is that two students who experienced criminal abuse were certified under the Victorian Lunacy Act 1915, and were then incarcerated within the Royal Park Asylum. Broken Rites contends that this action was taken to deal with serial absconding from the Saint John of God Training Centre, with the implication that such absconding was related to alleged criminal abuse. Its submission states that “paedophiles were even able to move their victims into the Victorian mental health system”. Again we strenuously refute this allegation. The allegation alleges actions that factually and legally could simply not have occurred. Any admission to a psychiatric facility within the State of Victoria, even in the 1 960s, required medical and psychiatric sanction. No Brother of Saint John of God during the time of the alleged criminal abuse or now, nor any other non-medical authority, is able to commit any individual, let alone a child into a psychiatric facility. Clearly, 1960s psychiatric service standards do not match our current models of psychiatric understanding and care, especially in relation to psychiatric conditions in children. If any children were wrongly committed to a psychiatric facility it can only have been with the required medical and/or psychiatric sanction (and not by members of the Order), and is deeply regrettable. Any responsibility for such action should be reviewed by the State of Victoria.
  4. Broken Rites also alleges that pack rape occurred at the Saint John of God Training Centre at Cheltenham. Again we strenuously refute this allegation. The Order has no documentary evidence, or knowledge of any statement, or representation, or approach from any person which would support or even suggest that this allegation is correct. An objective analysis of each of the thirty-one Statements of Claim received in class action proceedings clearly indicates that alleged perpetrators acted independently and usually within different time periods. Broken Rites’ hypotheses of ‘paedophile rings’ and ‘alpha paedophiles’ are not supported by the evidence, nor by the Statements of Claim filed in class action proceedings by victims.
  5. Broken Rites alleges that the services we operated in Victoria, were “a great little earner”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from “earning” any money, over many years, and in order to ensure the continued viability of our services, we have provided significant funding of our own in addition to that received from the government. Between 1997 and 2007 alone, the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God contributed approximately $2.8 million to the running of our services in Victoria on top of government funding, not including all expenses pertaining to the cost of living of the Brothers in Victoria which were covered by the Order. This deficit financial trend was also clearly the pattern in the preceding decades.
  6. Broken Rites states that the Order “enjoyed a particular relationship with successive governments in Victoria”. Again, the services of the Brothers of Saint John of God in Victoria operated under the same responsibilities and accountabilities as any other disability service provider in the state, both in receipt of Victorian State Government and federal government funding. The Order’s services in Victoria in fact, worked co­operatively with the Department of Human Services to provide services for deinstitutionalised clients from Janefield Training Centre with challenging behaviours, who had difficulty in accessing the service they required. As a result of continuous media coverage over the years, Saint John of God Services Victoria (now known as Saint John of God Accord) underwent an audit by the Department of Human Services and continues to provide valuable support and service to Victorians with an intellectual disability. There is no proper basis for this allegation, nor the innuendo directed at both the Order and members of the public service in charge of health and disability matters.

CONCLUSION

  1. The Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God considers the criminal abuse of any person, especially vulnerable children, as deplorable and indefensible. It is totally contrary to everything we believe in. When I joined the Order in 1977, I would never have believed that these terrible things could take place or that I, on behalf of the Order, would have to acknowledge and painfully accept allegations of historical criminal abuse that stretch back to the 1950s. We shamefully acknowledge the great harm that has been perpetrated by some of our members. All of our Brothers daily live the shame of the devastating harm that has been wreaked by some of their number in the lives of vulnerable people in our care.  Beyond acknowledgement of the harm, the Brothers of Saint John of God humbly ask the forgiveness of our victims, if they can give it; their family and friends; and the members of the Church and people of Victoria.
  2. Equally, the Brothers daily live the pain of the indifference to the obvious good that has also been achieved by the Order in Australia in the areas of psychiatry, palliative care, welfare and disability services.
  3. At all times we have sought to manage allegations of historical criminal abuse in a best practice, victim-centred manner so as not to re-traumatise victims. We have moved quickly to involve the police when allegations arose. We have arranged for victims to obtain the best legal advice in the area of institutional abuse. The Order has sought to support, heal and compensate victims compassionately and justly as their allegations have surfaced over the last twenty years.
  4. We are grateful to the Victorian Government for undertaking this important Parliamentary Inquiry. We appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the Inquiry.

 

Brother Timothy Graham


Provincial
The Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God Oceania Province


For more information click below for The response of the Catholic Church in Victoria to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations.

Facing the Truth Website

 

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Attachment.

 

Text of article from The Age 13 June 2002:

“Catholic Order to pay out $3.6 mil”

 

Catholic order to pay out $3.6 mil


By Murray Mottram
“The Age” 13 June 2002

A Catholic Church order will pay more than $3.6 million to victims of sexual abuse at boys’ homes in Victoria, fuelling criticism of the payout limits introduced in Melbourne by former archbishop George Pell.

The St John of God Brothers have agreed to pay 24 victims compensation ranging from around $100,000 to $400,000 each for abuse at its Cheltenham, Lilydale and Greensborough homes between 1968 and 1994.

Police are investigating possible criminal action against some of the brothers involved. The payout amounts have been agreed but have not yet been legally certified. The St John of God Brothers and the claimants’ lawyers, Slater and Gordon, issued a joint statement yesterday after The Age sought confirmation of the figures.

The head of the order, Brother Peter Burke, said each victim would get a personal letter of apology.

Peter Gordon, of Slater and Gordon, paid tribute to the “decency and integrity” of the order in settling the cases of some claimants, whose mental disabilities made it difficult for them to communicate.

“All the people we acted for had some form of communication or intellectual disability,” he said. “From a legal point of view these were very hard cases to litigate, and after having met very aggressive legal tactics from other Catholic orders in the past, I respect and admire the way the defendants handled it.”

Mr Gordon said he believed the settlements, made under the church’s national Towards Healing process, reflected what would have been achieved through a court hearing. But the payout has fuelled criticism of the $55,000 limit placed on compensation under the system set up in Melbourne by the former Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, now Catholic archbishop of Sydney.

Towards Healing places no limits on compensation. Two years ago, another Catholic order made a payout of $400,000 to a man who was abused at one of its schools in Melbourne. Other arms of the church have made several recent payouts of between $65,000 and $110,000 to Victorian victims, according to David Forster, a lawyer who has acted for about 100 victims.

The Pell system applies only to priests and other church officials who are responsible to the archbishop of Melbourne. Staff of national branches of the church, such as St John of God, do not come under the archbishop’s control, even if they are working within the archdiocese’s geographical boundaries.

Mr Forster said this meant if a person was abused by a priest answerable to the archbishop and a member of a national order, they would get different outcomes from the two compensation processes.

The father of a girl offered the then maximum of $50,000 under the Pell process three years ago said the latest payout showed the Pell system was designed to protect the church, not victims. “If they had to pay out what other organisations had to pay out then maybe they would be more careful,” he said.

 

 

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