“You have ignited a spark of hope in the darkness that surrounds me, as I shuffle through this life of shattered dreams and lost aspirations.”
Those are the words of a survivor, penned in a letter to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
This was just one voice among the thousands that contributed to the harrowing, five-year enquiry. One among the 42,041 calls, 25,96 letters and emails, 8013 private face-to-face sessions that lead to 2575 people being referred to authorities and informed the 409 recommendations released by the Commission on Friday.
While it is them – the men and women who wrote, called, spoke – that deserve our praise, we should also acknowledge the person who gave them someone who would listen, who would advocate for them.
It was on November 12, 2012, that the former Labor Prime Minister formally requested what was decades in the making and years overdue: a national enquiry into the way religious organisations, not-for-profit bodies, state care providers, police and child protection agencies had handled child sexual abuse.
The stories had been seeping out for years. Gerald Ridsdale, a priest from Ballarat who assaulted more than 65 children by 1988, was bounced from parish to parish as allegations emerged. Father Michael Glennon who assaulted a 10-year-old girl and was jailed but never defrocked. Dennis McKenna, a sex offender whose abuse of teenage boys at a hostel in Katanning, WA, went unchecked for 15 years.
But it was explosive allegations by senior New South Wales police investigator, Peter Fox, that the Catholic Church had covered up evidence involving paedophile priests that compelled Gillard to act.