A secrecy culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” could explain historical allegations of child sex abuse within a religious order, the royal commission has been told.
The commission’s investigation into the response of the Catholic Church into alleged abuse heard from the De La Salle Brothers, an order which had one of the highest number of alleged perpetrators ministering between 1950 and 2010.
The order was subject 328 claims of sexual abuse, including 219 claims at its BoysTown facility in Beaudesert in Queensland.
Brother Ambrose Payne told the hearing that throughout the 20th century: “A sense of secrecy was part and parcel with the culture.”
“I believe that was demonstrated in such advice given to me as a young brother: never ask a brother where he’s going, where he’s been, or where did he get that from,” Brother Ambrose said.
“Those aspects in my view helped to explain the unexplainable and the indefensible, they were characteristic of the situation at BoysTown from when it operated to 1962 to 2002.”
Brother Payne says the order closed down the BoysTown orphanage in Queensland in 2002 because they “could no longer adequately care” for the boys.
He said it was a turning point for the order, and they had established referral processes for allegations.
Order lead says early entry ‘stunted’ brothers sexually
The commission heard that one of the largest Catholic orders, the Christian Brothers, had re-examined 165 settlement cases for victims of child abuse, paying out an additional $14 million.
Leader Brother Peter Clinch explained to the commission why these “inadequate settlements” were reached originally.
“To me there may have been elements of denial, and we thought we were going to be taken to the cleaners, which we could still,” he said.
“There was kind of a defensiveness, reluctant to come and speak with legal people.”
He told the commission part of the reason abuse occurred could be to do with the young age some men entered the order — some 14 years old.
“I think it was Peter Evans who gave the evidence that I recall and I simply paraphrase and it said what he said, that it stunted their psychosexual development and they were uneasy with adult relationships,” he said.
The regional leader of the Marist Brothers, which runs schools across the country and has responded to 486 claims of abuse, Brother Peter Carroll told the commission that poor governance contributed in some way to abuse.
“One could be centralisation of authority and the whole hierarchical model in use, another could’ve been the whole lack of voice given to young people so that complaints weren’t brought forward by them, so they weren’t believed in some cases,” he said.
“It could’ve been a rigid control mechanism that was part of the culture of those schools.”
The commission also heard the orders supported a national re-dress scheme, which would provide compensation for victims.
The final days of the commission’s investigation into the Catholic Church continues tomorrow.