Explainer: What is being examined at the Royal Commission this week?

(File: Getty)

As the Royal Commission enters its third week into a hearing about the case of former altar boy John Ellis, SBS takes a look at what's being examined and what's to come.

Background

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was launched in 2013 to examine how certain institutions responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

The six-member commission is chaired by Justice Peter McClellan.

The other five commissioners are former Queensland Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, Family Court Judge and former Victorian Coroner, Jennifer Coate, Productivity Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Helen Milroy and former Senator for Western Australia, Andrew Murray.

The date for the final report from the commission is yet to be announced but is expected to be around the end of 2015.

The schedule of the commission includes private sessions in capital cities and regional areas as well as public hearings on specific case studies.

Past cases

The commission has held hearings on a number of cases, including a public hearing into the response of the Salvation Army (Eastern Territory) to abuse claims inside four of its homes: Alkira Salvation Army Home for Boys (Queensland), Riverview Training Farm (Queensland), Bexley Boys' Home (NSW) and Gill Memorial Home (NSW).

One former Bexley resident - known as "FV" - described being introduced to a man and a woman by Superintendent of the home, Captain Lawrence Wilson.

He said the pair took home to their home and sexually abused him, and when he later reported the abuse to Captain Wilson, he was punished.

FV said the impact of this incident, and others similar, had been devastating.

"The sexual attacks on myself are the hardest things to deal with, one day you are a boy the next you are a shell walking around," he said.

In February, the commission held a hearing into the experiences of women sexually abused while committed inside The Parramatta Girls' Training School in Sydney and The Institution for Girls in Hay, NSW.

The commission heard that girls were held in isolation, subjected to sexual and verbal abuse and many self-harmed.

Former inmate Mary Hooker said the girls were derided and dehumanised inside the home.

"We had numbers, not names," she said. "I was 127."

Now

Today the royal commission enters its third week of a hearing examining the Catholic Church's response to a complaint of sexual abuse made by former altar boy, John Ellis.

Mr Ellis made his complaint to Towards Healing - the internal church process for dealing with victims of abuse - in May 2002.

He was 13 when he was sexually abused by father Aidan Duggan at Bass Hill between 1974 and 1979.

By the time the complaint was made, Mr Duggan had dementia and did not face questioning.

The internal church process accepted his allegations to be true but when Mr Ellis unsuccessfully sued the Catholic Church in 2007, the church's legal team disputed the abuse had taken place.

This position was  under scrutiny today, with the former Catholic Archbishop of Sydney George Pell taking the stand about 10am to answer questions about his role in the litigation process.

At a hearing last week, Dr Pell's private secretary Dr Michael Casey said he had been following instruction over the matter, during hours of questioning about the case.

"I would have relied on the legal advice of our legal advisers," he said.

"And my understanding, I certainly understood I was acting honestly and fairly and the issue of not admitting the abuse in Mr Ellis's case, I always understood it more as a matter of non-admission."

Dr Casey alleged that it was Dr Pell's direction for the legal team to take a firm position.

In a statement tendered today, Dr Pell acknowledged that mistakes had been made.

"I met with Mr Ellis and his wife in 2009. I acknowledged to him then, and I repeat now, that in responding to his Towards Healing complaint, mistakes were made by me and by others in the Church that resulted in driving Mr Ellis and the Archdiocese apart rather than bringing healing," the statement read.

"I acknowledge and regret those mistakes, particularly the unacceptable delay from the date of his complaint to assessment. Also, certain steps were taken in the litigation that now cause me concern and that I would not repeat."

"Lessons have been learned. Following the conclusion of Mr Ellis' court case, I commissioned a review of the Archdiocese's Towards Healing files to see whether processes had been followed appropriately.

"As a result of that review, I made a submission in 2009 to the review of Towards Healingand made another submission regarding Towards Healing in 2011, suggesting improvements I thought could be made to address issues such as delay, an improved pastoralresponse to victims of abuse and the quality of investigations."

He said in the statement that he was committed to making the Church a safer environment for children.

"The crimes that were committed against Mr Ellis and others by priests and others in the community should never have occurred. The Catholic community should be one of the safest places for children and young people and it is a completely unacceptable failure whenever a child has been hurt by a sexual predator in the church. There is always more to be done and better ways of doing things. I am serious about preventing these crimes and our efforts have already had a good measure of success."

What's next?

The Royal Commission will next hold private sessions in capital cities and regional areas before moving on to case study 10 in Sydney.

That hearing will focus on the [Eastern Territory] Salvation Army's procedures for responding to abuse claims at its children's homes between 1993 and 2014.

A full schedule of the commission hearings in coming months can be found here.

Source SBS

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