Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has this week testified before an inquiry into the options available to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in Western Australia.
Chaired by Liberal MP Dr David Honey MLA, other members of the Inquiry included Member for Burns Beach, Mr Mark Folkard MLA, Member for Bassendean, the Hon David Kelly MLA, Member for Churchlands Ms Christine Tonkin MLA and Member for Nedlands Dr Katrina Stratton MLA.
The Community Development and Justice Standing Committee is inquiring into the compensation avenues available to victims of historic sexual abuse in the wake of law changes enacted in response to a landmark Royal Commission into the issue.
One of the primary recommendations of the Royal Commission – enacted in WA – was to remove time limits on making a civil claim for damages in recognition of the fact many child victims took decades to work up the courage to report what had happened to them.
Attending before the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee’s inquiry Monday 11 September, Archbishop Costelloe began his testimony with his repeated “sincere apology to those who have been so badly wronged by members of the Catholic Church”.
Archbishop Costelloe was supported at the Inquiry by Executive Director, Office of the Archbishop, Daniel Lynch and Acting Director of the Safeguarding Office, Barbara Blayney.
“I continue to be horrified by the extent of this abuse in Catholic institutions and am personally shamed by the failure of so many of our leaders to respond with compassion and integrity,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“The safety and wellbeing of children and young people in Catholic settings is now a fundamental priority for us all.”
After his opening statement, Archbishop Costelloe was questioned at length by MP’s David Kelly and Katrina Stratton, particularly in regard to the structure of the Church, his authority in relation to other dioceses and the role of thew WA Professional Standards Office.
Archbishop Costelloe responded to the many questions of by highlighting that the Catholic Church is a complex organisation.
“Every bishop is directly responsible to the Holy See, so we don’t have a structure of a national church or a national leader of the church in Australia.
“The reality of the Church is much more complex than people appreciate and that’s not to make any excuse for it, it is the reality,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
When asked his thoughts on how a survivor may feel re-traumatised when seeking justice only to be told they had not come to the right place, Archbishop Costelloe responded in a similar vein.
“I reject the suggestion that I am being dishonest or insincere in anything I’ve said about my commitment to this issue,” he said.
“I belong to the Church and must operate within the reality of the Church, we may or may not like the reality of the way the Church is structured, I can’t change it, I have to operate within it.”
Archbishop Costelloe said the WA Professional Standards Office was the appropriate body for first contact for survivors, but agreed it might not be well enough known, and highlighted the Church’s improved accountability through his Archdiocese’s safeguarding program and the establishment of Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited at the national level.
“Through our safeguarding program here in the Archdiocese of Perth, and through the establishment of Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited at the national level, stringent protocols have been adopted and embedded in the way in which the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth operates,” he said.
“Our compliance with these protocols will be regularly audited and the results made public.
“As a result, church authorities will now operate with full accountability to the Catholic community and the community at large.”
The WA inquiry has previously heard some institutions – including Catholic organisations – had resorted to applying for a permanent stay of proceedings to halt trials, often relying on claims of a lack of evidence due to the passage of time or the death of an alleged perpetrator.
Archbishop Costelloe told the inquiry his Archdiocese – which takes in the entire metropolitan area – had never requested a permanent stay.
He said he had instructed lawyers acting for the Archdiocese to “adhere to the recommendations of the Royal Commission” and deal with claims promptly, and consistently, minimise delays as far as possible and encourage private mediation where possible to reduce costs for both parties.
“These are my expectations and they are my clear instructions to our legal representatives,” he said.
“Behind them all is my clear insistence that we act not just from a coldly legal point of view.”
Much of the subsequent questioning from the Labor-dominated committee focused on what role Archbishop Costelloe – the most prominent Catholic in WA – played in ensuring his own approach was mirrored in other dioceses and in organisations like Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers.
Sourced: ABC News and The West Australian