Victims Disappointed

Canberra Times
July 19, 2008

A man whose daughters were raped by a Melbourne priest says the Pope's apology to abuse victims is disappointing because it offers no practical help to those who have suffered.

Anthony Foster and his wife Christine this week cut short their UK holiday to fly to Sydney in the hope of securing an audience with the Pope or Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell.

Melbourne priest Kevin O'Donnell raped the couple's two daughters, Emma and Katherine, when they were in primary school.

O'Donnell died in prison about 10 years ago, and the Fosters have accused the Catholic church of stalling their compensation claim, which was eventually settled out of court after an eight-year legal battle.

Emma Foster committed suicide this year at the age of 26, while her sister Katherine drank heavily and was left disabled when she was hit by a drunk driver in 1999.

Mr Foster today said the papal apology was disappointing.

"They are only words - the same thing we've been hearing for 13 years," he said.

"It is simply an apology, there is nothing practical there which is what we were looking for.

"The Pope apologised in the past to America, and what we are very concerned about is the lack of practical help for the victims.

"This is a first step that had been taken long ago."

He said the most pressing issue for the church was reform of the manner in which it handled abuse allegations.

Mr Foster blamed his daughter's suicide on the drawn out handling of her abuse claim.

"We've had apologies from Cardinal [George] Pell and other bishops in Australia before," Mr Foster said.

"What we haven't had is an unequivocal, unlimited practical response that provides for all the victims for their lifetime.

"The practical response needs to include both financial help ... practical help ... and psychological help for the victims."

Mr Foster said he was not confident today's papal apology would lead to such a change within the church.

"The Pope does not assert any authority over ... Cardinal Pell, who has introduced very severe limitations to the financial help," Mr Foster said.

"We have victims who have their lives destroyed, who are unable to pursue proper compensation.

"In Melbourne, the cardinal limited the compensation to $50,000 yet in our case the church later offered a much greater amount because we were someone who had the ability to negotiate.

"Those who don't have the ability to negotiate fall in the gutter and they are kept there by the church." Dr Pell this week defended his actions in relation to the Fosters, saying he had apologised and also offered financial help and counselling, which Emma had availed herself of for 10 years.

On his return to Australia this week, Mr Foster called on the Pope and Cardinal Pell to meet with him and other community groups that support sex abuse victims.

However, today he said there was not much point in the meeting with Cardinal Pell until he dramatically changed his attitude to the handling of abuse claims.

"I will happily meet with him if he wants to talk positively about changing the Melbourne system," Mr Foster said.

"I would ideally like to meet with a Pope who would be willing to take on the issue and actually unite the church and their approach to the matter, rather than just direct the individual archdioceses to look after it," he said.

Asked if he thought Pope Benedict could do that, he said: "I have great hopes that that is the case.

"If we had a Pope that is not capable of doing that then I fear for the future of the church," he said.

A victims support group also said the apology did go far enough.

Helen Last, spokeswoman for clergy sexual abuse advocacy group In Good Faith and Associates, said victims needed practical action to ease their suffering.

"It is just a drop in a bucket - a bucket full of tears that all of us who work with victims have been sitting with for 25 to 30 years in Australia," Ms Last told AAP.

"So it's not really a hands-on response is it? It's just a few words from the CEO.

"Would he like to roll his sleeves up and come to my office and be here ... everyday on the phone and meeting with these people and their families and doing all the trauma work?

"That's what we need to see, those kinds of really practical social justice actions."

Ms Last called for carers to be engaged to help counsel and care for victims, insisting they be involved in any policy developments stemming from today's Papal apology.

"(Victims) have been eliminated from these procedures, they've not had a structural part in them, their experiences are sidelined," she said.

"They need to be now totally involved in conferences, in setting up policies and procedures and in making the church put the resources into this area, making the church pay the cost of appropriate personnel and appropriate services and systems because it is a very meagre response."

But she said victims will take consolation in the apology and the way it was sympathetically delivered.

"I think it's a very appropriate and ... heartfelt statement and what victims want most of all is to feel that they are loved and cared for and cherished," Ms Last said.

"Our leadership in Australia has failed to be able to express that thus far and that has put them into a period of terrible darkness and distress.

"This is certainly a key turning point for us in Australia.

"We can now call on the words of the Pope as the victims and their families and communities to keep the church honest."


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