30 Mar 2021

Royal Commission hearing into abuse in care and redress wraps up

10:16 am on 30 March 2021

Survivor groups have left the inquiry into abuse in care in no doubt how little trust they have in churches of ever getting the redress process right.

Liz Tonks from Network of Survivors of abuse in faith-based care

Network of Survivors of Abuse member Liz Tonks says a recommendation from the Royal Commission for an independent redress body must be acted on as soon as possible. Photo: Supplied

Final submissions were made to the Royal Commission on Monday from survivors and from the Anglican and Catholic Churches and the Salvation Army.

The Network of Survivors of Abuse in faith-based institutions said apologies given by the churches were nothing more than attempts to gain sympathy from the Royal Commission.

It says survivors have heard nothing that gives them any confidence that if it were left to the churches, anything will change.

Liz Tonks from the network said action was needed now.

''Survivors who have reported to the commission, to ministries, to churches have been left unacknowledged and struggling. Others remain silent. They still wait for redress. The abuse they suffered has been known about for decades and still they wait.''

She said a recommendation from the Royal Commission for an independent redress body must be made as soon as possible.

''Commissioners, you have been mandated by survivors and the churches to recommend this independent body. Survivors ask that you act now on the completion of the public redress hearings. The cost of not doing so is unacceptable."

Tonks said past and current practices for receiving and investigating survivor complains were seriously flawed and could not lead to survivors receiving redress.

The Survivor Network for People Abused by Priests (SNAP) said there was a culture of secrecy, silencing, and protectionism within churches, and that religious privilege permeated many of them creating the opportunity for abuse.

SNAP founder Christopher Longhurst said there was a lot of rhetoric from the churches but nothing concrete.

Dr Christopher Longhurst, National Leader of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Christopher Longhurst Photo: Supplied

''None of this will ever be helpful to us when what is written in policy and what is practised are two entirely different things.''

Dr Longhurst said excuses from churches that the issue of abuse was complex hold no store with survivors, who saw it in simple terms.

"We are talking about child sexual abuse in religious communities and institutional abuse and its cover-up, past and present. This needs to stop and the people who enabled this need to be held to account and the mechanisms that caused this need to be dismantled and the victims and the survivors that suffered this need to be properly compensated."

Jacinda Thompson was sexually abused by an Anglican minister.

She believed the public apology offered by the Anglican Church came across as a PR stunt.

''Behind closed doors up until now, our experiences have been very different and that is right up until recent times, we have been denied apologies or have had to fight for them, like I had to fight for years to get the Anglican, the Nelson diocese to apologise publicly to me.''

Thompson said the church refused to apologise for the aggressive legal defence it took in her case.

"It is a bit confusing when the year after the Archbishop gets up and says the challenges I faced from the Anglican Church were totally unacceptable. I just wonder whether the Archbishop really speaks on behalf of the whole Anglican Church."

Frances Tagaloa was abused as a child by a Marist brother.

Moeapulu Frances and Timo Tagaloa

Moeapulu Frances Tagaloa with her husband, Timo Tagaloa. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

She believed the Catholic Church needed to be survivor-focused and make changes to what she said were systemic problems within the Church.

''They need more women in leadership, including priests and brothers. They need to remove that vow of celibacy and instead making that voluntary. They need to reframe sex abuse as a crime rather than a breach of celibacy and in my mind when a sexual abuse incident is upheld they need to remove the religious person or the clergy, whoever it is, and they need mandatory reporting.''

She believed churches were not survivor focused.

''[They] are not transparent. They confirmed their processes had failed, had not provided appropriate or adequate redress, and confirmed in some cases that their processes had been retraumatising.''

The Catholic Church said it was aware it had no right to expect forgiveness of survivors but was trying to make it right.

The Salvation Army said it accepted a more fundamental review of its redress process was overdue and was committed to making changes.

The Anglican Church wanted to create consistent safeguarding policies and externally review them for their effectiveness.

The Royal Commission said it would start work immediately on its response to redress and possible recommendations to the government.

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