Dear Archbishop Fisher
I understand that you believe the ‘relentless’ campaign to strip the Church of its assets (note the brutal metaphor) is motivated by a desire to destroy the Church’s good works. I hope this story will add to the dialogue in a constructive way.
In 1990 and for the following three years, the Social Response Unit of the Brisbane Catholic Diocese made a response to our support group Formerly in Children’s Homes.
On two or three occasions, a cheque for $100 was sent to us. We spent it on printing the FICH Newsletter. Then in 1992, after FICH had gained Incorporation in the State of Queensland, the Social Response Unit, led by Myolene Carrick, facilitated the FICH Seminar held at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital. This event was widely reported in the Australian media, being one of the first occasions where allegations of abuse in Australian Children’s Homes were publicly made.
I can hear some FAs saying, well it was the least they could do. I agree. But I need to point out that in 1990, when Lewis Blayse and I started the group, we wrote to every Church that was represented among our membership. We wrote to the Anglicans, the Uniting Church (formerly the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational Churches which amalgamated during the 60s), the Baptist Church, and the Salvation Army. Not one of these other institutions so much as acknowledged that we had written to them.
One day I phoned the Moderator of the Uniting Church. I have forgotten his name. I explained why FICH had been formed. I said we had members who had been abused in their orphanages, particularly WR Black at Chelmer. I asked him for a response. He said they had public liability insurance; this would cover any action brought by a person with a grievance. He did not offer to help FICH.
In 2005, a representative of a large Australian insurance company phoned me asking questions about another Church with whom FICH had dealings. In the interests of privacy at this time I choose not to identify the denomination. The insurer asked me if, in my opinion, the institution knew, could have known, or ought to have known, about the abuse. I couldn’t give a clear answer, as honestly, I didn’t know.
The actions of the Catholic Social Response Unit in Brisbane in 1990 may have been seen as inadequate by FICH members, but they need to be viewed in the context of what other help was being provided for care leavers at the time. As any Forgotten Australian would tell you, this was worse than inadequate. Care leavers were invisible then, as they are now.
The reason I mention this is that after FICH died in 1993, it would be several years before another attempt was made to get justice for orphanage victims in Queensland. The Neerkol Action Group was formed, and given assistance by St Mary’s, South Brisbane. St Mary’s was also where the Prisons Ministry was located.
Incidentally, as I am not an FA, but a survivor of abuse in a church, I need to clarify that I also received some help at St Mary’s, where Karyn Walsh began a group for survivors of clergy abuse. Karyn advocated on my behalf and attended three meetings I had with Archbishop Hollingworth. She would confirm, as many have doubted to the further detriment of my good name, that the Archbishop asked me if I had been ‘blonde’ at the time of my alleged sexual abuse aged 17. She would also confirm that other victims of the alleged perpetrator contacted her after the Channel 9 Sunday program about Hollingworth, produced by Nick Rushworth.
In the late 1990s, as pressure mounted in Queensland for a commission of inquiry into orphanage abuse, Karyn Walsh and others at St Mary’s formed the Esther Trust. In the beginning, there was a lot of discussion about who should be notified when child abuse occurred. An anecdote from someone at an early meeting would illustrate, for me, the reason why survivors of institutional child abuse may be unsatisfied with the ‘good works’ of the Church.
A meeting participant suggested that a child’s parents must be notified of any allegation. Ms Walsh disagreed, because parents are ‘not experts’.
In a future post I will analyse the model of practice used by the Aftercare Resource Centre, responsible for the disastrous Moving On Project. Owing to the attitude openly expressed by many welfare professionals, that FAs can never agree on anything, that they have no idea what their needs are, the Moving On Project further marginalized several FAs. It so traumatized one of my care leaver friends that she has been unable to return to any of these organisations that are supposed to help care leavers. She has told me that the Forde Enquiry stirred up her trauma and left her in limbo. I can concur. When you decide it is in the best interests of all to bare your soul and recount the most horrible experiences, it is more than difficult to ‘move on’; it is soul-destroying.
Archbishop Fisher, as Australia’s First Peoples are saying on this anniversary of the Apology, please stop thinking that because the Church and its associated welfare organisations have so many “experts” on board, that the ideas of its client base can safely be ignored!
This is not the case. In fact, the longer that care leavers are denied self-determination, the more money it is going to cost, to keep them in jail, keep pronouncing them mentally ill, and keep them powerless in a state of learned helplessness and dependency. I sincerely believe that this situation is enabled so that the issue of care leaver trauma and its effects on families can be swept under the carpet, to swell the coffers of welfare providers in Australia.
The child protection industry in Australia delivers an ongoing supply of human fodder for welfare professionals and church doers of ‘good works’. It wouldn’t suit any of these people to allow care leavers any power in making choices about their lives. Heaven forbid!
However, maybe just one generation of allowing care leavers some autonomy might result in less inter-generational trauma and perhaps save some of those heritage-listed buildings, where atrocities were hidden for so long.
How about trusting people to make choices that benefit them and their families? A Universal Basic Income, and the end of Centrelink, would be an interesting social experiment. It could save countless lives and more importantly for everyone, so I’m told, contribute to the much touted ‘economic growth’.
Finally, what may seem ‘relentless’ to some, may to others show the depth of the despair experienced by survivors. Nobody chooses to learn of the evils that can flourish in society. I didn’t want to know either, when I first started hearing the stories. After a while, one can experience ‘compassion fatigue’. Wouldn’t it be nice if FAs could accept the miserly handouts and just go away! The trouble is, handouts don’t solve any of the daily problems faced by Forgotten Australians and their families. “Thanks for all the fish“, but FAs and their families would like to learn how to fish for themselves.