April 21, 2015
Bishop ‘forever sorry’ over orphanage abuse
A SENIOR Catholic nun has attacked a former Queensland MP who revealed former residents at Neerkol Orphanage were being abused for “sensationalising” the issue.
Sister Berneice Loch, leader of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, said she still objected to the naming of Neerkol in a ministerial statement by former National Party MP Kevin Lingard in September 1996.
“I consider it astounding and dismaying such allegations could be made in the Parliament of Queensland …. without any attempt to substantiate the allegations,” Sister Loch told the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Rockhampton.
Sister Loch said it was a “very public statement” about matters which were then only alleged.
“In the eyes of the public, these things had happened.”
Counsel Assisting Sophie David, SC, asked whether Sister Loch accepted the point of the statement was to encourage other victims to come forward.
“You don’t think it is a valid approach?” Ms David asked.
“No, I don’t,” Sister Loch replied.
Sophie David SC, counsel assisting the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Photograph: AAP
A senior Catholic nun has admitted her response to allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a central Queensland orphanage was inadequate and exacerbated victims’ suffering.
The national head of the Sisters of Mercy, Berneice Loch, told a royal commission on Tuesday she was sorry she had not acted more compassionately towards former residents of the Neerkol orphanage, near Rockhampton.
Loch was the congregational leader of the Sisters of Mercy, which ran the orphanage between 1885 and 1978, when former residents came forward in the 1990s with claims they had been physically and sexually abused by nuns and priests.
The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse heard that instead of speaking to complainants, Loch ran the claims by nuns who had worked at the orphanage and other former residents.
She also supported the legal defence of abuse victims’ compensation claims and organised the drafting of a press release (which was never sent out) that referred to “bitter and resentful” orphanage residents.
Asked by counsel assisting the commission, Sophie David SC, whether her response between 1993 and 1997 had been inadequate and had exacerbated the abuse that victims suffered, Loch agreed.
“We were very much in a phase of attempting to understand the issue and develop procedures,” she said.
“Most of the time about this period, we were attempting to learn a great deal more about both physical and sexual abuse.”
In a heated exchange with the lawyer for one abuse victim, Loch vigorously denied the drafted press release had sought to “throw dirt” at a child abuse complainant.
However, she stood by her strident 1996 public criticism that a ministerial statement revealing the existence of the Neerkol allegations was sensationalist.
The hearing continues.
Child sex abuse inquiry: Retired Bishop sorry for sexual abuse of children at Queensland orphanage
Retired Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan has apologised for the sexual abuse of children at St Joseph’s Orphanage at Neerkol in central Queensland and for failing victims when they came forward.
“I apologise again for the harm and suffering of former [residents] at Joseph orphanage residents at the hands of the Catholic Church, priests and sisters and staff,” he said outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“I also apologise for the way in which I responded to these victims. I failed them and for that I’ll be forever sorry.”
I also apologise for the way in which I responded to these victims. I failed them and for that I’ll be forever sorry.Brian Heenan, retired Bishop
Bishop Heenan was cross examined for the second day at the Rockhampton hearings over the church’s responses to the abuse allegations at the Neerkol orphanage from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Father Reg Durham, who was the administrator for the parish of Neerkol and had resided in the presbytery, was charged in 1997 with 40 sexual offences against five former residents and pleaded guilty to six counts of indecently dealing with a child.
Bishop Heenan told the inquiry he never took steps to de-frock Father Durham – even after the priest pleaded guilty – before his death in 2002.
In his apology, Bishop Heenan said he hoped his evidence provided a deeper understanding of the devastation caused by sexual abuse and the impact it has on victims and families.
“I hope my evidence has provided a deeper understanding of the devastation of sexual abuse, what it does to the victims and their families. I also hope it will help the royal commission to develop recommendations that will make all institutions safer for children.”
Photo: Children at St Joseph’s Orphanage at Neerkol, west of Rockhampton, were raped, molested and beaten, the inquiry has heard. (ABC Local: Alice Roberts)
Bishop Heenan was ordained in 1962 and was in charge of the Rockhampton diocese from 1991 until he retired in 2013.
The commission heard on Friday that it took Bishop Heenan three years to restrict Father Durham’s contact with children and in 1999 he gave him a character a reference.
He also admitted that at one point he tried to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church rather than consider the victims of sexual abuse.
Abuse victim Mary Adams, who gave evidence last week, said she felt satisfied hearing Bishop Heenan’s testimony.
“Bishop Heenan has endeavoured to right the wrongs of the past, I feel he’s certainly moved further down the track than he had in the earlier days,” she said.
“I’m certainly impressed with his honesty, but it certainly hasn’t helped me tremendously because I will say that a lot of my dealings with the church, I had to initiate.”
The Commission, which began hearings last Tuesday in Rockhampton, was told that for more than three decades, children at the orphanage were raped, molested and beaten.
The Sisters of Mercy ran the Neerkol orphanage for half a century before it closed in the late 1970s.
One witness says she was raped when she was 14 by a worker at the orphanage in 1965, another was sexually abused by a priest and forced to drink her own urine to stay hydrated.
Nun did not reach out to victim
A senior member of the Sisters of Mercy gave evidence after Bishop Heenan and said she too did not offer to help a victim.
Sister Berneice Loch said she first became aware of abuse allegations when she saw an article in a Rockhampton newspaper in the early 1990s.
The article quoted a former resident who suffered a miscarriage after she was raped when she was 11 years old.
Sister Loch has testified that she knew the victim but did not contact her.
“I wasn’t sure if the story was correct or not, wasn’t convinced it was true,” she told the inquiry.
Sister Loch denied trying to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church, and said there were no proper protocols for responding to abuse at the time.