Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis, snarled this famous line before a party brimming with hidden undercurrents, lies, and deception, in the 1950 film, All About Eve.
We are in for a bumpy few years. It’s going to get bumpier come September, when the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and NSW Special Commission of Inquiry are scheduled to release their reports, and the Royal Commission begins public hearings.
But as we have seen recently, along with the dips come the jumps and lifts as well.
Our spirits were raised by seeing, first Archbishop Denis Hart, then Cardinal George Pell, appear before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry. They should have been questioned harder, for longer, and about many more issues, but nonetheless it was both exciting and encouraging to see them held accountable in some way for the very first time. It was even better watching the faces of the Committee members asking the questions. How uplifting to see people in positions of authority, not dismissing us, not caving in to pressure from Church officials to bury the truth, but instead standing up for the rights of children not to be raped, and wearing expressions of disgust for the pathetic excuses and deplorable behaviour of these self important princes of the church.
It was also hard to watch, as all such episodes are, as it brings home to us just how badly we have been neglected and abandoned by those who should have asked these questions and done something to stop these crimes decades ago. Because if they had, imagine how much suffering and how many lives could have been saved.
Another bumpy ride is offered by the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry. Sitting in the public gallery of the Newcastle courtroom it is hard not to wonder why so much of the inquiry’s time and effort are focussed on discrediting brave whistleblower Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, instead of investigating the shocking crimes and cover up he revealed. But Peter is prepared to endure any amount of legal bullying, confident that the full truth will be given a chance to be heard by the Royal Commission. Meanwhile the Special Commission of Inquiry, working within very restrictive terms of reference, has hopefully finished endlessly repeating accusations and insinuations about Peter, and will now finally turn some of its attention to the cover up of child sex crimes by church officials.
Excitement at the prospect of seeing those responsible for so much suffering finally face detailed investigation has been replaced by disappointment much of their evidence will now be heard in camera, hidden from survivors, the public and the media. The consolation is that this is reportedly necessary because of the possibility these crimes will finally make it to court. Judging by what was revealed in the last week, there certainly seems to be reason to expect a raft of prosecutions. If action is taken, these will be the first Australian prosecutions for the cover up of child rape by Catholic officials, despite mountains of evidence, and a cover up occurring in nearly every case. There was an arrest for such a coverup last year, but in common with standard procedure, the only official to be formally charged was near death and so, in the end, like so many others, he escaped justice and never made it to court.
According to Church officials, the only people responsible for this systemic problem are conveniently dead or old enough to use the ever reliable “too old and infirm” con. So it is exhilarating that even this severely hobbled inquiry has brought to the surface documents about the actions of church officials who are a long way from being able to carry off the standard issue sympathy attracting walking stick, wheelchair, ambulance or oxygen mask.
Even the Royal Commission, with broad terms of reference and extensive powers, still has and will continue to provide many bumps for survivors. A senior lay Catholic and a former police commissioner being appointed as Commissioners concerned many survivors, especially as Robert Fitzgerald’s very relevant background was not disclosed. Teething problems with communications have also worried many. The fact that funding promised by the Government has not been put towards the provision of ongoing counselling for those revealing their traumatic past experiences, possibly for the first time, is particularly worrying and disappointing. The single most crucial use of this money is for the lifesaving counselling we have long been denied by church officials and successive governments. Some of the organisations receiving the funding are not putting the money towards services for survivors, and/or have a history of refusing help to clergy abuse survivors, reabusing survivors or secretly accepting money from the abuser institutions.
However the Royal Commission has already helped and given hope to many. I have sat in, as a support person, on a private session and was very impressed with how it was conducted. I have spoken with those in charge of different areas of the Royal Commission’s operations and am similarly impressed and confident this vital task is in good hands. And with every passing day I am more convinced this Royal Commission is a rare and precious opportunity to tell the truth and be heard. An opportunity we should all value, support and not let go to waste.
Survivors in other countries are desperate to be offered a similar opportunity.
We cannot change the past, but we have been given this one chance to change the future.
There are signs church officials are starting to tire of the pretence of co-operation and will soon descend to the vicious and expensive defence of their reputations seen around the world in similar situations. But instead of letting this get us down, we should take heart from the fact we have truth, evidence, courage and public disgust at these cowardly crimes on our side.
Congratulations and best wishes to all those heroic survivors, their families, supporters and whistleblowers who have told or will tell their truth to one or more of Australia’s trinity of inquiries.
Our evidence can help ensure decision makers properly understand the scale and nature of this problem, and make decisions based on reality, instead of being taken in by church officials’ lies and misinformation.
We might not all see our own version of “what justice looks like” become a reality. We will all have a lot of bumps, both up and down, to survive. But between us all, and with the help of the truth revealed at last by these inquiries, we should achieve enough justice and enough change to be confident this problem is finally being properly addressed. And one day we might even be able to sleep peacefully at last, as if this horror never happened to us.
Stay safe everyone.