Everyone supporting survivors in Australia seems to have been suffering from constant exhaustion for the last few months, trying to keep up with three different inquiries and numerous media issues.
They do say to be careful what you wish for. Every time we are tempted not to bother dragging ourselves out to attend hearings, provide input, support survivors or front the media, all we have to do is remember how hard it was to bring this issue to public and media attention, and how important it is we not waste these once in a lifetime opportunities to reveal the truth and achieve lasting law reform.
There will be time to rest, time to cry, time to spend time on recovery, and time to blog regularly once the hard work is done.
For those not able to attend the many inquiries currently under way, let me give you a brief taste of their work. These are personal opinions based on what I have seen personally, which may or may not represent the full picture.
Inquiry No 1 – The NSW “Special” Commission of Inquiry
Following the stunning accusations made late last year by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, no one actually wanted or asked for a narrow political inquiry designed to protect the reputation of the NSW Government and senior police.
Yet such a beast was imposed on us by Premier Barry O’Farrell within days of Peter Fox’s open letter to the Premier and his subsequent television interviews.
When it was followed just days later by Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s historic announcement of a national Royal Commission, Barry O’Farrell was presented with an ideal opportunity to fold his “Special” Commission into the real thing, the Royal Commission.
Unusually, a state Premier didn’t avail himself of an opportunity to let the Federal Government pick up the tab, and proceeded with this expensive exercise in punishing a courageous whistleblower.
It is hard to tell whether Commissioner Margaret Cuneen SC has been ordered to deliver something other than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or whether she has simply been given a poisoned chalice by the Catholic Premier and Attorney General.
Certainly the misogyny of the male dominated legal profession towards female lawyers in general, and this crown prosecutor in particular is no secret. Smug male lawyers and politicians are most likely snickering over Margaret’s predicament right now.
In public hearings Ms Cuneen’s role has been more of a referee than a driving force, though behind the scenes this may be different.
But there was a hand directing what evidence was examined and what questions were asked, and that hand steered the heavy machinery of the “Special” Commission, at least in the first term of reference, firmly in the direction of mowing down Peter Fox and avoiding everyone else.
The question is, whose hand?
Who instructed Ms Lonergan to examine in microscopic detail any evidence which could be used to discredit Peter Fox? Who told her to spend days making accusation after accusation of vague wrongdoing, whether or not supported by the facts or Peter’s answers to her questions? Who told her to do such a good job of taking over the role of the defence barristers and undermining Peter and his evidence in every possible way.
I was in court when she finally finished questioning Peter for the first time and said to myself, “surely the defence barristers will have nothing to do now that she has already done their job for them?”.
I was wrong.
The wolves actually scuffled to see who could take first nip at Peter’s flesh. The vicious animals were unleashed to maul the man standing bound hand and foot before them.
Ms Lonergan had at least couched her endless litany of repeated insinuations and accusations in a professional and respectful manner.
The legal thugs paid by NSW police and church officials to land as many body blows as possible had no such compunction. Their manner was so aggressive, so offensive and so abusive that Ms Cuneen intervened, more than once.
The worst offender? Counsel for the victim hating General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference. This barrister was eventually dismissed when it was realised his attacks had zero relevance to his client and were nothing but courtroom antics and particularly ugly intimidation.
No doubt the defence counsel were eager to show their clients some result for their exhorbitant daily fees. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when such disgraceful behaviour is allowed in a court supposed to be delivering justice.
Just because it is accepted practice doesn’t make it right. And it is so far from appropriate behaviour towards victims, that I sat in the public gallery in horror at the prospect that victims may be subjected to this blood sport.
Thankfully the “Special” Commission protected other witnesses, including victims, from this legal bullying.
But not Peter. For despite his heroic strength, his smiles and quips, his refusal to be beaten down, and his stoic endurance under terrible pressure, there was an horrific price to pay for the crime of speaking out for abused children, and against the criminal coverup of the crimes against us.
Peter and his family have paid that price every day since his letter to the Premier. But the price was particularly heavy in the Newcastle Supreme Court under Premier Barry O’Farrell’s “Special” Commission of Inquiry.
The “Special” Inquiry’s second term of reference focussed on the role of church officials, and hearings into this issue were held separately, after a short break. I’m so glad that, when drafting the terms of reference, someone remembered that an inquiry into the cover up of crimes within the catholic church should, at least for the sake of appearances, ask a few questions of church officials.
Those few questions were asked gently, and with obsequious respect for the greedily claimed but undeserved dignity of their religious roles.
Survivors in the public gallery were even more distressed by this Special treatment from the Special Inquiry, than they were by the brutality unleashed on Peter Fox. Or perhaps it was the comparison, the double standard, the hypocrisy, and the continuation of years of giving criminals in drag a free pass from legal responsibility for their actions, that hurt so much.
It is possible Counsel Assisting Julia Lonergan SC was attempting to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. These entitled princes of the Church of Child Rape do not even deign to pretend to co-operate with anyone rude enough to ask them a direct question. But they will chat familiarly with someone who goes along with their little charade and acts as if they are, by virtue of their self appointed titles, incapable of wrongdoing.
And this is when they unconsciously reveal the twisted thinking behind their inhumanity.
Lowlights of the weeks of evidence from church officials include the mysterious virus that conveniently robbed so many of them of memory of anything even vaguely incriminating.
Not all memory, just any memory that got a little too close to the uncomfortable truth. This virus has similarly affected church officials in other countries whenever anyone has tried to hold them accountable for their actions.
Even Julia Lonergan SC found the frequency of the answer “I don’t recall” to “beggar belief”.
Bishop Michael Malone’s distaste for looking at sex abuse files failed to generate the desired sympathy from those forced against their will to endure the far more distasteful sexual assaults from his carefully protected predator colleagues.
But Father Harrigan got plenty of sympathy, and a week to recover, from Commissioner Cuneen after the horror of having survivors and supporters sedately express a fraction of their disgust for the crimes of the clergy. In return, said sedate protestors were threatened with contempt of the Commission. Even that rebuke was more than the child rapists ever faced.
The excuse of blaming dead people, so favoured by Archbishop Dennis Hart and Cardinal Big George Pell, and many others, didn’t wash here since documentary evidence to the contrary was right in front of them.
Instead the vile Father Brian Lucas resorted to the ridiculous claim to be acting in victims’ best interests in covering up our abuse. In my personal experience, echoed by so many others, the only way this vicious church enforcer would like to help us, is into an early grave.
Much of the church evidence was held in camera, away from public view and the media. Purportedly because of the possibility of criminal charges.
Frankly, in my layman’s view, even much of the evidence in public hearings justified the laying of charges for misprision of felony or covering up serious crimes.
Will this Special Inquiry break with the long held tradition to ignore, dismiss, or fail to follow up on crimes by Catholic clergy, particularly the cover up of child sex crimes, and particularly those committed by senior church officials?
Experience would suggest it will not, but I would welcome being proved wrong on this.
And I am prepared to protest loud and long in front of NSW Parliament House if the evidence of a long term systemic criminal conspiracy to cover up ongoing child sex crimes is not passed to NSW police to investigate.
The Commission is now finished its public hearings and we can do nothing but wait for the report due on September 30.
Nothing except perhaps to demand of the staunchly Catholic NSW Attorney General an explanation why the brief of evidence delivered to him by Strike Force Lantle stills sits on his desk and has not been approved for the recommended charges to be laid against church officials.
The police finished their investigations by July 2012, and the DPP has been in possession of the brief of evidence at least since October 2012.
Is he looking for a good distraction, such as a Federal election, to bury the news that he refuses to proceed on this matter? Or if he intends to allow the law to operate without political interference, why has he not done so before now?
Stay safe everyone.