As a single mother, Ruth often struggled to find safe social activities that she could enjoy with her three children. So when the opportunity came up to join a local Pentecostal church, she happily went along.
‘It’s just that you weren’t accepted as a divorced person in the other churches’, she told the Commissioner. ‘And I sort of thought, “these people are a little bit funny, their doctrine’s a little bit haywire, but it’s good because it’s good things that the kids can go to”.’
Ruth and her kids stayed with the church from the mid 1980s well into the next decade, participating in dinners, functions and the church youth camp.
Then in the late 1990s one of the other mothers at the church made a complaint to the police, alleging that pastor Andrew Maier had touched her daughter inappropriately during a church camp.
When Ruth heard about the complaint she became concerned that other children might have been abused as well. ‘I knew that this wasn’t going to be an isolated incident, but because of the power that that man had, it was going to be huge.’
Ruth contacted police and a child protection agency. She also discussed the matter at the church and learned of several other girls who claimed to have been abused by the pastor. The girls were in the same peer group as Ruth’s daughter, and Ruth began to suspect that her daughter may have been abused as well.
Ruth’s daughter ‘emphatically’ denied the abuse, and as far as Ruth knows none of the other girls made official complaints to police or the church.
The initial charge was dropped after a short police investigation which Ruth believes was hampered by the girl’s father who refused to cooperate.
‘I’ve got a feeling he believes it,’ she told the Commissioner. ‘But what he said to me was “Maier’s got cancer - that’s punishment enough”.’
As for the reaction of the church, Ruth recalls that around 2000 the senior pastor made an official announcement that Maier had done no wrong, and had just been showing the girls ‘a bit of affection’. Behind the scenes, Ruth believes that the church worked to discredit the mother who had made the claim.
Seeing that the church planned to take no further action, Ruth took some action of her own. ‘I decided to speak to anyone who was a sole parent, because they needed to check their children. And I ran into this young man who had two children on his own and I thought they were very vulnerable, it was a very vulnerable family, so I told him to be careful.’
The man told one of the ‘head men’ from the church what Ruth had said and a short while later she received a call from the senior pastor. ‘He said, “How dare you – this poor man” or something and “You’ll answer to God for this”. Basically that was saying, “You’re a liar and you’re making all of this up”.’
Since then, Ruth has not seen any action taken against Pastor Maier or the other members of the church. She believes that Pastor Maier is now working for a church in rural New South Wales, and is concerned that he may reoffend. She wants the church to be investigated and is particularly worried about a number of suicides that have taken place in the community.
Ruth is also concerned about the harm done to Jesus’ name. ‘I tend to believe that his name has been sullied when it hasn’t been his fault. It’s human beings who have done this sort of thing.’