Rockhampton Catholic leaders respond to sex abuse report


  • Royal Commission into child sex abuse at Neerkol releases full report
  • Former Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan lacked 'training' in handling abuse claims
  • Queensland Government didn't have policies and procedures in place for abuse reporting
  • Punishment administered by some nuns and employees at the orphanage was cruel and excessive 

UPDATE 4.40PM: ROCKHAMPTON Bishop Michael McCarthy and Sister Berneice Loch from the Sisters of Mercy, have released a joint statement following the release of the Neerkol report. 

"In response to the publication of the Royal Commission's final report into St Joseph's Orphanage, Neerkol, we commend the courageous survivors who shared their heartbreaking stories that have enabled the Royal Commission to prepare this important report," they wrote.

Michael McCarthy will shortly be ordained as the new Bishop of Rockhampton. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Michael McCarthy will shortly be ordained as the new Bishop of Rockhampton. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison

"Our thoughts and prayers are with them and we hope the Royal Commission process may assist in their healing.

"Since last year's hearing, the Diocese of Rockhampton has implemented a number of changes including the formation of a Child Safeguarding Committee to oversee all aspects of Child Protection within the Diocese, as well as the appointment of a Diocesan Child Protection Officer.

"The Sisters of Mercy have built on the measures that we have made available to survivors since 1997 through the offering of a wide range of assistance and support to meet their identified needs.

" All relevant policies and procedures have been reviewed and monitored to ensure they continue to reflect best practice.

"We again reaffirm our apology to the survivors for the pain they endured.

"The Diocese and the Sisters of Mercy will now carefully consider the report and continue to seek reconciliation with these brave men and women.

"We remain totally committed to ensuring the safety of children and vulnerable people in our care."

EARLIER: THE Royal Commission into child sex abuse at St Joseph's Orphanage, Neerkol, has found former Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan lacked training in detecting and responding to abuse cases.

The Royal Commission's report into Neerkol has been released today.

>>READ: See the full report here

The report follows a public hearing held in April 2015 which inquired into the experiences of a number of people who were resident at St Joseph's Orphanage, Neerkol operated by the Sisters of Mercy, between 1940 and 1975.

Former residents provided chilling accounts of abuse.

St Joseph's Home Neerkol. Photo Morning Bulletin Archives
St Joseph's Home Neerkol. Photo Morning Bulletin Archives Photo Morning Bulletin Archives

The Commissioners were satisfied Bishop Heenan and Sister Berneice Loch, of the Sister of Mercy group, lacked "training in detecting and responding to child sexual abuse", which "undermined their capacity to deal effectively with complaints" by former residents.

A release issued by the Commission said between 1993 and 1996, four former residents of the orphanage brought their experiences of abuse directly to the attention Bishop Heenan and Sister Loch. 

Additionally, in 1993, another survivor who had not resided at the orphanage but who had been abused by the parish priest Father Reginal Durham, complained to Bishop Heenan.

Bishop Brian Heenan issues an apology to the former residents of Neerkol Orphanage. Photo Austin King / The Morning Bulletin
Bishop Brian Heenan issues an apology to the former residents of Neerkol Orphanage. Photo Austin King / The Morning Bulletin Austin King

The Royal Commission heard evidence about the degrading treatment of the children at the orphanage by some of the Sisters and employees and the appalling conditions in which the children lived.

The Commissioners found that the punishment administered by some nuns and employees was cruel and excessive and did not accord with the regulations in place under the relevant legislative framework.

The Commissioners also heard about a lack of Queensland departmental policies or procedures for reporting abuse by officers of the department.

The Commissioners were satisfied that the Queensland government had failed to adequately supervise and protect the children in the orphanage by not ensuring adequately trained staff were employed as department inspectors and by not ensuring adequate scrutiny over the circumstances in which the children were living.

By late 1996, the Queensland Police Service was investigating allegations of child sexual abuse against a number of former priests and lay workers who had worked or provided services at the orphanage.

By early 1997, criminal proceedings started against both parish priest Father Durham and former orphanage employee, Kevin Baker.

In early 1997, the Sisters formed the Professional Standards Steering Committee (PSSC) which formulated processes and guides for the response to, and prevention of, child sexual abuse.

This is now known as the Professional Standards Office (PSO) and continues to operate today, providing assistance to former residents who experienced physical and sexual abuse at the orphanage.

The Commissioners are satisfied the Diocese and the Sisters settled compensation claims with former residents despite legal advice they were in a strong position to defeat the claims because of the age of the claims.

Topics:  neerkol rockhampton royal commission into child sex abuse

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