There have been a number of times when evidence before the Royal Commission’s public hearings has been conflicting. Confusing. Dodgy even.
But this week’s questioning of YMCA managers has uncovered what only the most naïve would consider to be anything other than direct and deliberate lies to the Commission.
Witnesses flatly contradicted the evidence of other witnesses, or of documents. One witness contradicted her own earlier sworn evidence taken in a private hearing. But in response to attempts to straighten out these inconsistencies and about-faces, they give the same, carefully rehearsed, defensively unco-operative evasive non answers.
Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness SC and Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan made it perfectly clear when they were frustrated by witnesses’ pretense of not understanding in order to avoid answering difficult questions. And they simply did not accept nonsensical assertions about how well this matter was handled in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.
The carefully polite questioning occasionally slipped with these witnesses. Justice McClellan in particular showed his quiet anger when anyone arrogantly flaunted their contempt for both the powers of the Commission and the intelligence of those questioning them.
Some of these managers were emotionally shut down and avoidant, with their coldly defensive and self-righteous manner. They brushed aside, both verbally and with their body language, any suggestion they could have done anything in any way wrong.
Wrong things happened, certainly, but despite being in positions of responsibility, little or no responsibility – personally, as a management group, or as an institution – was admitted or accepted.
This attitude was maintained even when managers were questioned directly about their own or others’ lack of adherence to YMCA policies, lack of proper conduct of reference checks, lack of adequate supervision and training, and employees unable to report upwards their concerns about worrying behavior of a colleague.
The more junior YMCA staff witnesses last week were clearly distressed that they did not do more to follow up on feelings of something not right about Jonathan Lord’s interaction with the YMCA’s clients. They understood how they could have acted differently, how the situation could have been managed differently, and that as a result, children may have been saved from suffering. Not so the middle and senior managers, despite their far greater responsibility and ability to take effective action.
Those who have most to answer for in allowing Jonathan Lord unquestioned access to his favourite prey, not only deny there was a management problem, or any responsibility for the problem, but support and even promote each other.
Despite claims from YMCA about how seriously they take the issue of child protection, those responsible for what the Commission and an expert described as a clear failure of management have not analysed any problems with the management of their centres or sought to learn from those failures, and have not been put through intensive external training in management and child protection, but have instead been rewarded with even more senior, influential, strategic and no doubt financially lucrative positions.
Some of these managers have demonstrated such a dedication to protect certain individuals and the institution from the truth and from facing responsibility, such a lack of consideration for victims and neglect of the safety of children, that they could be considered ideally qualified to become Catholic bishops. Except, of course, some are in possession of the wrong set of genitalia.
This forensic examination of these managers’ actions shines a light on individuals who, like most catholic officials, are callous, defensive and self serving in their response to these horrific crimes. We can observe, even if we can’t understand, how they shut down their humanity, shut down any consideration of the innocent child victims and their shocked families, and of anything other than protecting themselves and their institution.
The question that must be asked of the Commissioners is, will there be any consequences for those who lie to the Commission?
Certainly many of the misleading or incorrect assertions made under oath were subjected to a detailed re-examination armed with sharp logic and strong evidence to the contrary, and most eventually resulted in a more truthful admission. But in some cases the witness simply refused to accept the truth.
If such behavior is rewarded by having no consequences, as long as a witness is able to maintain their fiction and refuse to admit to the truth, how will the Commission cope with all the complicit catholic religious and bishops, who have been given official Vatican encouragement to lie through their teeth via the policy of mental reservation, and have sworn an oath to protect the reputation of the catholic church, no matter what?
Especially dangerous are bishops and cardinals, who are expressly required, encouraged and rewarded for putting their loyalty to the church hierarchy in Rome and the pope in particular, above the law of the land. These princes of the church consider themselves to be doing the right thing, and even acting heroically, by thwarting the efforts of local law enforcement and other legal and judicial authorities.
Will the deceit of “I can’t recall”, “I don’t remember”, “to the best of my recollection”, “I was not aware at the time” and others be allowed to block access to the truth?
Or will witnesses be required to actually provide answers, rather than a confection of carefully rehearsed excuses, and legally directed evasive strategies?
November and December promise to be exceedingly interesting months.
Stay safe everyone.