EX-QLD Bishop "Placed Children at Risk"
April 21, 2016
Retired Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan placed children at risk of abuse by a pedophile priest because of his inadequate response to complaints, a royal commission has found.
The sex abuse royal commission examined St Joseph's Orphanage Neerkol, near Rockhampton, which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy between 1940 and 1975.
The commission has found the sadistic punishments dished out by some nuns were "cruel and excessive" and against regulations.
In April last year, 13 men and women - now aged from their 50s to 80s - recalled to a Rockhampton court the abuse they endured, including public floggings and having their genitals beaten.
Allegations of sexual abuse first emerged in the 1990s.
In a report released on Thursday, commissioners Justice Jennifer Coate, Professor Helen Milroy and Andrew Murray found Bishop Heenan failed to provide an adequate response to a complaint of sexual abuse at the hands of the disgraced former member of his clergy, Reginald Durham, in 1996.
"In failing to do so, he placed other children at risk of sexual abuse by Father Durham," the report said.
Bishop Heenan told the priest not to approach young children or schools, but there was no supervision of the restriction.
The bishop failed to follow church protocols because the priest, who is now dead, was not suspended until he was charged by police in February 1998, the commission found.
But the report also noted the capacity of both the Bishop and Sister Berneice Loch, who became the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy in 1991, to respond to complaints was undermined by a lack of training in detecting abuse.
The Queensland government also failed to adequately supervise and protect the children because scrutiny over the living circumstances was lacking.
Victims had "little or no opportunity" to speak with inadequately-trained department inspectors, the report said.
"We are also satisfied that children who did complain of physical and/or sexual abuse to a department inspector, a Sister, a priest or police were not believed and/or were often punished by the Sister or priest for reporting the abuse."
The commission said the case study raised a raft of systemic issues including problems with reporting child sexual abuse, complaint-handling, oversight and maintaining records.
Those problems will be further considered in the commission's criminal justice project.
The probe built on similar findings of the Forde Inquiry in 1998 and 1999.