Abuse Victims Seeking Compensation Told Catholic Church Would Endure Long After They Were Dead
An Australian ‘Victoria News’ article by Jane Lee
Ballarat’s Bishop Paul Bird told survivors seeking compensation that the Catholic Church would endure long after victims died and were forgotten, the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse has heard.
Survivor Andrew Collins, 46, told the commission on Thursday that he met with Bishop Bird in May 2013 with fellow survivor Peter Blenkiron asking for financial compensation to help other survivors “even if it was just to help them survive the week” to help survivors who can no longer work to afford things like counselling and basic household bills. Mr Collins said they asked Bishop Bird to pay the $252 difference between the disability pension and the pension paid to returned servicemen. “We knew that some of the guys were just in so much difficulty and struggling to pay for things like medication,” he said.
“Bishop Bird told us that if the church had to pay that amount to every survivor, the church would go bankrupt and that we were intent on destroying his church. He said ‘Andrew, you need to understand something, the church has endured for thousands of years and in another 40 years or so, you people will all be dead and all this will be forgotten about and the church will endure for thousands of years more’.”
The Diocese of Ballarat later started paying some medical expenses of some survivors, Mr Colins said. “As far as I am aware, they are the only diocese in Australia doing so.” Bishop Bird invited Catholics to pray for survivors giving evidence before the royal commission in a public letter to all parishes days before the Ballarat hearing began. “We pray that they will be able to continue the journey and find peace and hope for the future,” the bishop said in the letter, which was also distributed to media. He said he hoped the commission would “provide an opportunity for people to have their voices heard”.
Peter Gray, SC, for church witnesses including Bishop Bird, declined to cross-examine Mr Collins when he finished his testimony on Thursday, in line with the church’s position not to “out of respect for the survivor witnesses”. Mr Collins told the commission of how his family refused to believe he had been abused, and shunned him after he went public about the way he was raped by priests and Christian Brothers since he was in grade four. His father had said his mother would let him “be part of the family again” if he published a letter saying he had “made everything up and none of the abuse had happened” in a local paper. “I’ve literally lost my whole family to this … They don’t even talk to my family and children.”
Mr Collins had attempted to take his own life a number of times and his marriage had previously almost broken down. Reports have said he will never work again, or if he does, only in a part-time repetitive job. But he counted himself lucky because he was eligible for Work Cover and income insurance unlike others who relied on a lower disability pension. Most days his brain “just does not work” and he often struggled to get out of bed: “I never know which day is going to be a bad day.” Mr Collins will continue giving evidence to the commission next week, when Bishop Bird is also expected to be called as a witness.