During Monday’s hearing of the Australian commission that investigates child sex abuse, it emerged that Australia’s Catholic Church has paid at least $43,000,000 in hush money to victims of pedophile clergy members.
It’s easy to miss the significance. This money wasn’t a settlement. The Church paid it on the express condition that priests’ misdeeds would be kept secret. And not just secret as in “out of the public eye”:
In some cases, victims were not even allowed to tell their husbands, wives or children about the secret settlements negotiated through the church’s controversial Towards Healing process.
Which doesn’t sound much like “healing” at all.
Some of the recipients now say they felt pressured into accepting the deal. One abuse victim, teacher Joan Isaacs, explained that
… she had felt silenced for the past 12 years after reluctantly signing a confidentiality agreement through the church’s controversial Towards Healing process for a $30,000 settlement which, after she paid legal fees, left her with enough to buy $5000 worth of Coles-Myer shares [Coles-Myer was a chain of department stores] and a sewing machine. …
Her voice wavering, Mrs Isaacs told the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sex Abuse in Sydney how one member of the [children’s] group had Father Frank Derriman’s baby while the priest told them that, if they loved God, it was OK to have sex with him because he was God’s representative.
He had other tricks up his godly sleeve, too. Isaacs testified that Derriman
… “softened” her up for sex by making her read the novel Lolita and talking about sex during confessional. He referred to nuns “in a sexual manner” and celebrated June 25, which is the birth date of the baby who is the antichrist in the book Rosemary’s Baby, she said.
Derriman is no longer a priest, but don’t rejoice just yet:
He is now married and working as a social worker in Victoria.
The emotional low point of Monday’s proceedings came when Church attorney Peter Gray, after expressing his client’s regret for the “indefensible, shameful, heartbreaking … betrayal of trust,” nonetheless saw fit to quote Scripture — specifically, Matthew 19:14:
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the kingdom of God belongs,” Mr Gray said. …
With cries of “Good Lord, “What an insult” and “What a joke”, about a dozen people walked out of the commission. “It is particularly insensitive,” said Leonie Sheedy, who along with her six siblings grew up in 26 orphanages. “We suffered abuse and neglect as children and we really didn’t need to hear that Bible quote.”
The hearing marked the first occasion that the Catholic Church, called to account before a government commission, revealed the extent of compensation paid to hundreds of victims. (1,700 people entered the process offered by Towards Healing, though not all pursued it to the end, and the Church dismissed many claims.)
The $43 million in hush money does not include out-of-court settlements and other payments that weren’t made under the Towards Healing program.