Report into St Joseph’s Orphanage released

21 April 2016

The Royal Commission’s Report into Case Study 26 - the response of the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton and the Queensland Government to allegations of child sexual abuse, was released today.

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.

The Royal Commission heard evidence from 12 former residents of the orphanage who detailed the serious emotional, physical and sexual abuse by priests, nuns and grounds workers. Another survivor, who was not a former resident at the orphanage, also gave evidence of sexual abuse that she suffered by the parish priest, in Rockhampton.

Former residents gave evidence to the Royal Commission that they did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time it was occurring. Some did not tell anyone because they had no-one to tell and did not think they would be believed.

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.

Between 1993 and 1996, four former residents of the orphanage brought their experiences of sexual abuse directly to the attention of the 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 Durham, complained to Bishop Heenan.

The Commissioners are satisfied that Bishop Heenan and Sister Loch’s lack of training in detecting and responding to child sexual abuse undermined their capacity to deal effectively with complaints of child sexual abuse by former residents between 1993 to 1996. 

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, Mr 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.

Read the full report.

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