CATHOLIC Church officials have admitted their treatment of a woman who was sexually abused aged 14 by the chaplain of her Brisbane convent school lacked justice and compassion.
The Church’s Towards Healing process for responding to victim’s complaints amounted to ‘‘re-abuse’’ of Mrs Joan Isaacs, admitted Mary Rogers, who facilitated Mrs Isaac’s case for the Catholic archdiocese for Brisbane.
Mrs Isaacs, now 60, turned to the Church for an apology, counselling and compensation after her abuser, Frank Derriman, was convicted and jailed for eight months. Her Towards Healing meeting with Church representatives took place in April 1999. After two years of fraught negotiations she was paid $30,000, most of it wiped out by costs. She got 10 sessions with a psychologist, but had to repeatedly chase up the Brisbane archdiocese to pay her psychologist’s invoice.
The protracted negotiations ‘‘had the effect of re-abusing Mrs Isaacs and it was certainly not a compassionate response’’, admitted Ms Rogers, now director of the Catholic Church’s Queensland professional standards office. Mrs Isaacs wept quietly in the hearing room at these words, comforted by her husband, Ian.
Ms Rogers also agreed that there was no ‘‘justice’’ in Towards Healing in any legal sense.
‘‘The word justice is difficult to fit into this protocol’’, she said.
The Church’s insurer, Catholic Church Insurances, and its lawyers, dictated Mrs Isaac’s treatment with a view to minimising liability, according to the evidence of Dr James Spence, whose job as chancellor of the archdiocese was to liaise between them. He said the ‘‘lawyers and insurers told us not to involve ourselves’’ in an apology. He agreed with Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the commission, that this stance was lacking in the justice and compassion which the Towards Healing protocol on paper required.
‘‘Did you ever say to the Archbishop, ‘This isn’t right’?’’ asked the chair of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan. Dr Spence replied that ‘‘one doesn’t generally speak so directly with the Archbishop’’.
The retired Dr Spence said the $30,000 payout to Mrs Isaacs, about a tenth the amount she had sought, was ‘‘mean’’.
He said the Archdiocese had a $150 million development fund which could be used to go “outside the figures, where justified, offered by insurers”.
He said it was ‘‘quite inappropriate’’ that Mrs Isaacs was required to sign a deed preventing her from speaking ‘‘disparagingly’’ of the Towards Healing process as a condition of her payment.
But at the time he “didn’t see” that the deed went against the Towards Healing protocol. Dr Spence said Mrs Isaacs’ silence should have been a “recommendation” not an obligation, to protect damage to her own reputation as well as the church’s because “there is a certain degree of, shall we say, exaggeration in the press”.
The hearing continues.