‘Our call for natural justice and the right to be heard has continually been denied. We’ve not been heard at all.’
Through the 1980s, Rory attended a Catholic school for children with disabilities. He was picked up and dropped off by driver Keith Lawson, who in subsequent years was charged by police with having child exploitation images in his home. Only the parents of those children identified in the photos were notified of the charges against Lawson, and Rory’s parents, Janise and Paul Jones, only became aware of them in the early 2000s.
Janise and Paul attended the Royal Commission because Rory’s disability prevented him from speaking for himself.
They said they’d noticed sexualised behaviour changes in Rory decades earlier that in hindsight were consistent with child sexual abuse. On several occasions they’d had to withdraw Rory from holiday programs because he exhibited ‘bizarre sexual behaviour’ that was ‘totally out of character’.
After leaving school Rory started working but became more and more anxious after one of his colleagues kept teasing him and pulling down his pants. At around this time, and ‘unable to establish for certain’ whether Rory ‘was subject to abuse or a witness of abuse’, Janise and Paul joined other concerned parents as they tried to establish the extent of Lawson’s offending. They also sought answers from the Catholic Church as to what procedures had been followed in regard to the allegations against Lawson.
Janise and Paul told the Commissioner that senior members of the Catholic Church suggested they contact staff of Towards Healing as a means of addressing their questions and concerns.
‘Very early on we were told by a lawyer who came to visit on the invitation of parents that the only thing you would get from civil proceedings in this case would be money, and we thought, well money is not what we’re looking for here. We want to know why this was hidden for 10 years. We wanted to know the detail about what had happened and why we weren’t told’, Janise said.
Six months after being recommended to engage with Towards Healing, Janise and Paul sought to clarify progress with the process and their involvement in it, but the responses they received were vague and unhelpful.
Months later, Janise and Paul read media reports in which a senior clergyman announced that the Catholic Church was offering ‘a gift’ to more than 30 children from the school, and that the payment was ‘made in the context of Towards Healing’. Janise said that up to that point they’d had no communication from the Church and she wondered how they’d arrived at the decision. ‘We were really angry that this was offered because it seemed treating us with contempt, that they wouldn’t even talk to us about it. But also spending that amount of money without any assessments seemed to be a little bit irresponsible.’
By that time Rory needed full-time care and Janise and Paul put the $50,000 they received towards that. ‘It was emphasised as a gift’, Paul said, rather than a compensation payment.
Later, the senior clergyman advised the Joneses that he’d meet with them to discuss their concerns. In preparation, they sent a list of issues they wanted to raise, however the meeting was cancelled three days before the planned date. The stated reason was that the questions they’d raised were ‘legal’.
Several years after that, Janise and Paul received a letter outlining why the Towards Healing process hadn’t been implemented for them. It was the first time they’d heard that it hadn’t.
‘Over a period of five years we attempted to engage with the Catholic Church through this program and they kept telling us their commitment to Towards Healing was strong, not only to us but in the media. But by … their last correspondence to us, they gave us four reasons why it wasn’t implemented.’
The reasons were written in dot points and included that the police investigation and legal action prevented implementation of the process; and that because of the ‘disabilities of the victims’, and because many victims couldn’t ‘prove the facts of their case’ Towards Healing wasn’t able to be implemented.
Janise and Paul told the Commissioner that no one from the Catholic Church, police or the state government had been able to describe the school’s procedures for dealing with the abuse. They felt the response of the Church was only that which had been advised by their insurance company and lawyers, and there’d been no monitoring or audit done in relation to how they dealt with child sex abuse allegations.
‘The problem with the Towards Healing is that it’s one of those very elusive things’, Paul said. ‘If you have a procedure in place, it may not necessarily be prescriptive, but it is a procedure in place, you don’t have a choice. Their problem is that they use this in a capricious way so they apply it when it suits them and that’s what we find frustrating.’
‘They said at one stage, “The matter is now settled”’, Janise said. ‘Well, who settled it?’