Catholic Victims Never Had A True Advocate

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Over the last week the Catholic Church's foot soldiers have been taking the stand at the Royal Commission into child abuse to sketch out just how the church failed John Ellis so badly.

Cardinal Archbishop George Pell has been put last on the list and will be brought before the commission later this week. They're reeling in the smaller fish first.

The revelations from the "Get Pell" side of things have already been written about extensively elsewhere, especially by Fairfax journalist Catherine Armitage. From the get-go though, I've taken a different approach to reporting the Royal Commission, focussing on the systemic and policy failures laid bare by the efficient work of Justice Peter McClellan and Gail Furness SC.

In this sense, the most disappointing evidence during this public hearing was given by Raymond Brazil, a lawyer and mediator who has acted for the church in 15-20 Towards Healing facilitations since 2003. He was the facilitator in Ellis' Towards Healing session, which was his third, and the first he had facilitated for the Sydney Archdiocese.

Under questioning from Furness, Brazil gave some incredible insights into how the facilitations worked. They were a chance for victims to put their grievances to the church, negotiate counselling and a financial "gesture". The sessions were (at least at first) perceived to be a means to achieve some measure of justice against a vastly more powerful institution that was now taking a more contrite and vulnerable stance.

In reality, the sessions were structurally biased against victims from the beginning. Furness asked Brazil whether he considered his role as a facilitator to be "about getting the best result for the victim", to which he replied:

"My role was a mediator: to go between the complainant and the representative of the church authority [in this case the Sydney Archdiocese]. It wasn't my role to recommend or to advise."

He did not see himself as a representative of the victim who agitated on their behalf, or a "player" in the proceedings, but as a facilitator of the process itself. In a Towards Healing session, he would "Not advocate in the same way that I might in a family and child mediation".

Brazil's stance wasn't "neutral" towards the parties, he explained. "I believe it would be impartial," he told Furness.

But when the hearing discussed whether there was an informal "upper limit" on church payouts to victims through the Towards Healing process — euphemised as "financial gestures" by the church – the limits of "impartiality" were laid bare.

"My understanding under the Towards Healing process was that there was an informal ceiling or, as it was sometimes called, a cap of $50,000, the amount that would be paid as a financial gesture to a complainant," Brazil said.

When Furness asked Brazil where he became aware of that perceived cap, which he said wasn't in any written material he received during the process, he said he picked it up during training days for Towards Healing, run by the church's professional standards office, and from Michael Salmon, the head of the office.

Brazil understood the cap, which was itself "informal", had never been "breached", and he admitted that he went into Ellis' facilitation with this in mind. He agreed with Furness, when she asked if part of his role was "to try to manage or deal with the expectations [including financial expectations]of a complainant going into a facilitation?"

None of this is to impugn Brazil or to say he didn't play the hand he was dealt in a professional way. But, as Matthew says, "A man cannot serve two masters." The way the Towards Healing facilitations were constructed meant that victims never had a true friend or advocate during their interactions with the church. The best Brazil could promise victims was:

"[T]o ensure that the process, particularly at the facilitation, is one in which both parties, or the participants, can be heard…"

For his efforts, counsel for the church tried to stitch Brazil up in last week's sessions, asking him whether he thought Salmon was honest, asking him to speculate on whether Salmon would have told him the truth, and inferring Brazil had come up with the idea of the $50,000 cap from some other source.

If Brazil and other facilitators were means to be the sympathetic figure for victims, the cynicism and dysfuction behind the scenes in the church gives us a better impression of what the "master's voice" of the church was really like. John Davoren, the former director of professional standards, prevaricated and blustered his way through questions from Furness about his influence in decisions regarding compensation. The health of the abuser, Father Duggan, was treated with more concern than Ellis' trauma.

Rayner's assessment of Ellis, recorded in an interview with a lawyer at Monaghan's, the firm retained by the church at one stage of the case, shows the general attitude: "He is not a strong character at all, very pedantic, slow, tedious and I think all the time they are after money."

The church was constantly on guard against victims. They insisted that a deed of release was signed by victims who went through Towards Healing because, as Rayner said, they didn't want to give a lump sum to victims who would then go on and litigate: "It is not appropriate to give someone dough up front to sue us."

Ellis thought someone in the church — perhaps not Pell — had it in for him, but he was unsure who. But poor outcomes were the inevitable result of Towards Healing, which was never seen as a true mediation by those in the church. The church always expected litigation and accordingly proceeded in the mediations with a defensive and belligerent attitude.

As Rayner said, "I don't think we were able to do it without referring it to the lawyers … It was mediation to a degree, as it was with other cases; but with Mr Ellis, I don't think it was proceeding … It wasn't going to come to a satisfactory conclusion for either of the parties without it going to the lawyers." Quite.

The hearing continues this week.

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