ANTHONY Foster was integrity personified.
His death on Saturday, aged 64, after he collapsed on Wednesday, has shattered everyone who knew him.
His death has added to the merciless toll that’s a consequence of the Catholic Church’s history of child sexual abuse.
Anthony and wife Chrissie’s two eldest daughters, Emma and Katie, were sexually assaulted by Catholic priest Kevin O’Donnell when they were barely five and six years old, and O’Donnell was in his 70s. Emma died of a medication overdose in 2007, aged 25. Katie was struck by a car in 1999, aged 16, after periods of binge drinking. She survived, but with profound disabilities.
Since the 1990s Anthony and Chrissie Foster have fought the church on behalf of their daughters, but increasingly on behalf of all survivors.
On my desk I have the book Chrissie wrote in 2010, Hell on the Way to Heaven, about that fight, including their attempt to meet Pope Benedict in Sydney during World Youth Day events in 2008, and the church’s shocking response – that some people were “dwelling crankily on old wounds”.
The book carries an inscription and the date, October 27, 2012. It was a Saturday and the first time we met.
There wouldn’t be a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse without Anthony and Chrissie Foster. On that October, 2012 day we were at a public meeting in Sydney, a month after the first public meeting in Newcastle as part of the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.
Anthony and Chrissie had flown up from Melbourne to support the campaign and the three of us spoke. The audience included the Hunter’s Lou Pirona, whose son John’s suicide only weeks earlier, after he was sexually abused as a child by notorious Catholic priest John Denham, was the catalyst for the campaign.
I remember a man in the audience asked me a question and criticised the campaign’s strategy. For some reason that day I was absurdly optimistic. I told the man that the Victorian Government had already established a parliamentary inquiry that was being overwhelmed by submissions from child sexual abuse victims around the country. Anthony and Chrissie played a vital part in the establishment of that inquiry.
I remember saying it was the first time an Australian government had cracked and acknowledged the response to the child sexual abuse crisis could no longer remain in the hands of the Catholic Church.
I also remember telling him that if just one other state government cracked there would be a national royal commission.
Anthony Foster then spoke and agreed with me. He was also absurdly optimistic that day. We joked about it afterwards. By that stage, though, the weight of evidence supporting a national royal commission was overwhelming. It was just a matter of convincing governments of the profound need. The rest is history.
Anthony Foster’s integrity left him devastated by the Catholic Church, but it also made him one of its most devastating and formidable foes.
He was thrust into the public sphere by appalling circumstance. His passing is a loss to the nation, but more specifically to Chrissie, their youngest daughter Aimee, their two grandchildren and Katie.
Anthony Foster deserves a state funeral. More than that, his death requires us to honour his memory by demanding governments act on the royal commission’s recommendations.