Australia

Vatican summit on child sex abuse is all talk, say Australian victims and families

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Chrissie Foster, whose daughters were raped by a Catholic priest, and Peter Gogarty, who is taking his fight to The Hague, say the church should hand over its secret documents.

Senior figures in the Catholic Church from around the world will gather at the Vatican on Thursday for a four-day summit on the clerical sexual abuse of children.

Australian survivors and advocates for victims say their expectations are low and are demanding the Vatican hand over secret documents detailing paedophile priests.

Two of Chrissie Foster’s daughters were repeatedly raped by a priest at their Catholic primary school in suburban Melbourne.

Katie Foster struggled to deal with the abuse, becoming a binge drinker. She was hit by a drunk driver in 1999 leaving her with physical and mental disabilities.

Her sister Emma took her own life nine years later.

Chrissie Foster
Two of Chrissie Foster’s daughters were raped by a Catholic priest.
SBS News

Ms Foster believes the summit in Rome is unlikely to see any major changes to church policies enacted.

“I don’t have any hope of anything concrete coming out of it,” she told SBS News.

“I think a couple of indicators are recent announcements by the Pope, one was last October; where he said that the Catholic Church was under attack by the ‘great accuser’, the devil.

“It seems something ludicrous to say. You can’t arrest the devil, or put him before a court, put him into jail, whereas we have real clergy who are sexually assaulting children and they don’t even get a mention.”

The Vatican
The Vatican will host a four-day summit on the clerical sexual abuse of children this week.
AP/AAP

In his 2018 Christmas address, Pope Francis demanded priests who raped and molested children turn themselves in.

Ms Foster, one of Australia’s highest profile advocates for abuse victims, doubts the speech had any effect.

“I wonder how many have done that since he said to. I doubt there’s any. I feel that if the Pope was serious about this, he would ask every bishop in the world to hand over their secret archives, their files on offender priests, over to police. That would mean something.”

If the Pope was serious about this, he would ask every bishop in the world to hand over their secret archives.

- Chrissie Foster, Abuse victims advocate

Current Vatican guidelines call for bishops to report abuse to police in countries where the law requires it, a technicality that has infuriated survivors’ groups.

In NSW, Newcastle man Peter Gogarty will be watching proceedings at the Vatican closely.

He was abused by a priest from age 11. His battle for justice has lasted decades and continues today.

Peter Gogarty
Peter Gogarty was abused by a priest.
AAP

Late last year he submitted documents to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, asking for the Catholic Church to be investigated for crimes against humanity.

“I consider myself an optimist, I’m always hoping for the best with these things, but having said that I’m not overly optimistic that anything meaningful will come from the summit,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of talk from the Vatican and the Catholic Church before and we still haven’t seen a lot of meaningful action.”

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Sex abuse survivors speak ahead of Catholic summit
Sex abuse survivors speak ahead of Catholic summit

In December, the summit’s organising committee sent a letter to attendees, instructing them to speak with abuse survivors and their families before travelling to the Vatican.

“The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened,” the document read.

“For this reason, we urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured.”

Neither Ms Foster nor Mr Gregory have been contacted.

“I’m not the only child abuse advocate in New South Wales or Australia that’s for sure, but absolutely nobody, our local bishop included, has made any attempt to talk to me about what this summit should be aiming to achieve,” Mr Gogarty said.

“I do have views on it and I have tried in the past to work with the Catholic Church and be positive about that, so I’m disappointed.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference told SBS News it meets with survivors regularly, but details of the conversations are private. The group’s president, Brisbane archbishop Mark Coleridge, will be attending the summit.

While the conference will likely be one the most covered events at the Vatican since the last papal election, Pope Francis has sought to downplay expectations.

During his Sunday message in Rome, he said the prevention of child abuse was “an urgent challenge of our times” but recently told reporters “We have to deflate expectations, because the problem of abuse will continue, it is a human problem.”

Ms Foster questions the Pope’s commitment and that of senior bishops across the globe.

“They are not equipped to deal with it, because they haven’t dealt with it. This scandal erupted in the US in the 1980s, there’s been a long history of exposure of this crime and a long history of them blaming this person, blaming that person, blaming journalists, blaming the devil, blaming the victim.”

“Any apology from them has only been through public pressure, via the media, and they’re forced into it. It’s not something that’s coming from them, it’s not a changed heart, it’s not a realisation. There’s none of that. They’re still waiting for it all to be over, to carry on.”

Readers seeking support can contact the following services:

Sexual assault, family & domestic violence counselling: 1800respect.org.au / 1800 737 732

Adults surviving child abuse: blueknot.org.au / 1300 657 380

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