Response: Unfair Fairfax

Sep 15, 2013 | Safeguarding & Redress

It is unfair for Fairfax Media to continue to paint the St John of God Brothers as “a notorious order of paedophile brothers”.

Since its inception in Australia in the late 1940s until now some 260 men have served as Brothers in the Australian Province. In that time four Brothers – one now deceased, one ex-Brother (for more than 17 years), two in retirement – have been charged with criminal offences, specifically child sexual abuse, two of whom were convicted and have served jail sentences. Currently, the ex-Brother referred to is the subject of an extradition order from NZ to answer further charges in Australia. To refer to the St John of God Brothers, particularly those now serving, as Fairfax does is unfair, unreasonable, unworthy, in short, just plain wrong.

Child abuse is abhorrent to the St John of God Brothers – to have had even one case of a child in our care abused in any way is one too many, but we shamefully admit it did happen and we continue to live with that shame even though we have dealt with each victim justly, generously and compassionately.

Following its charism created in Europe centuries earlier, St John of God in Australia established institutions for residential education for intellectually-impaired children. Subsequently, as its children grew into adults, St John of God established and ran sheltered workshops, to use the terminology of the time, in one case in Victoria a farm for both vocational education and enjoyment of said intellectually-impaired adults.

In 1992 the first complaint of abuse of a child in our care was made. Since that time, with reporting requirements now in place throughout the Province, each complainant has been urged to take their complaint, as well, to the Police. Many did, some chose to deal directly with the Order, many elected to work through lawyers. Civil, amicable, generous settlements have been made with complainants over time in Victoria, in New South Wales and in New Zealand, where the Australian Province ran a residential school at Christchurch.

It’s true there have been a significant number of complaints, most of which come to light many, many years after the event. It is untrue to suggest there have been a large number of offenders. The very nature of the crime of child abuse, as we all are now coming to know, is of highly-organised, corrupt individuals working alone and, in so many cases, with multiple victims, who are afraid, sworn to secrecy or made to feel so ashamed they cannot bring themselves to even mention the event(s) to their parents or carers. It has become a sad fact that so many victims, or survivors as many quite rightly prefer to refer to themselves, only bring their stories to light after their parents are deceased.

The St John of God Brothers applauds the Federal government for establishing the Royal Commission. We encourage anyone, everyone, who has a tragic story to tell to tell it to the Commission. We as a society can only strive to deal with this travesty, this scourge, once we know and understand the extent of it in the community and the extent of the damage it has caused to innocent, trustworthy individuals for the rest of their lives.