Gerard Henderson offers compelling criticism of those running the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse whose primary task appears to be the destruction of Cardinal George Pell. Media Watch Dog No. 347, 3 February 2017.
ROYAL COMMISSION CENSORS PROFESSOR MICHAEL HAINS’ SUBMISSION RE PAUL BONGIORNO, STEPHEN CRITTENDEN AND THE ROYAL COMMISSION’S TERMS OF REFERENCE
On 5 May 2016, the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released a document titled Issues Paper 11: Catholic Church Final Hearing. The document commenced as follows:
The Royal Commission will hold a final hearing regarding the institutional response of the Catholic Church to child sexual abuse in February 2017. This hearing is expected to include consideration of the following:
- Data regarding the extent of child sexual abuse within Catholic institutions.
- Factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, particularly by clergy and religious.
- Factors that may have affected the institutional response of the Catholic Church to child sexual abuse.
- The response of Catholic Church authorities to the findings and observations made in relevant Royal Commission case study reports.
- Current and future approaches of Catholic Church authorities to:
- responding to child and adult victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, including secondary victims
- responding to individuals subject to allegations of child sexual abuse.
- the protection of children and the prevention of child sexual abuse.
The Royal Commission, under the title “Submissions”, then advised that submissions on Issues Paper 11 are invited – from, among others, “academics or other professionals” – concerning a range of matters.
Professor Michael Hains’ (Censored) Submission
On 30 June 2016, Dr Michael Hains (Adjunct Professor, School of Law, The University of Notre Dame Australia) forwarded a submission to the Royal Commission.
In his submission, Dr Michael Hains pointed out that:
▪ Many matters in Point 1 of the section titled “Submissions” in Issues Paper 11 have little or no relevance to child sexual abuse and involve such matters as Catholic theology.
▪ The Royal Commission has been justifiably criticised for applying different standards to George Pell (when he was a junior priest in the Ballarat diocese) and Paul Bongiorno (when he was a junior priest in the Ballarat diocese). Mr Bongiorno was not called by the Royal Commission to give evidence and was only required to provide a statement – even though a submission from a man called BPL alleged that Paul Bongiorno was told of the pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale’s offending when he (Bongiorno) was a priest in Warrnambool. (see MWD Issues 317 and 340).
▪ Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Gail Furness SC, has failed to abide by the obligation to ensure that the reputation of those persons appearing as witnesses before the Royal Commission are not improperly or unnecessarily harmed – with respect to Cardinal George Pell. Dr Hains cited Professor Kenneth Wiltshire in support of his submission in this regard.
▪ The Royal Commission has failed to correct its own errors. For example, Ms Furness’ (false) implication that – in the early 1970s – (then) Fr Pell in Swan Hill should have known about the sexual offending of Monsignor John Day in Mildura because the parishes of Swan Hill and Mildura “adjoin each other”. In fact, the towns are over 200 kilometres apart and there are two Catholic parishes between Swan Hill and Mildura.
▪ Stephen Crittenden, a long-term critic of Cardinal Pell, was the main author of Issues Paper 11 – suggesting that this evoked an issue of “apprehended bias” sufficient to cast a shadow over the Issues Paper 11 exercise. Dr Hains identified Mr Crittenden’s involvement in the metadata in the Royal Commission’s own PDF document. The Royal Commission has not denied this claim. Nor has the Royal Commission addressed the fact that one of its senior staff members was employed with respect to the Royal Commission’s work on the Catholic Church despite his known hostility to Cardinal Pell. It is understood that the Royal Commission has since changed the document to remove any link to Stephen Crittenden in the Issues Paper 11.
▪ The Royal Commission – by involving itself in issues relating to the Catholic Church – is breaching the separation of Church and State guaranteed by the Constitution and acting beyond the Royal Commission’s terms of reference.
Royal Commission Rejects Professor Hains’ Submission Without Providing Specific Reasons
Michael Hains has LLB (Hons) and Ph.D. degrees. Clearly, he is within the category of “academics or other professionals” whom the Royal Commission specifically invited to make submissions concerning Issues Paper 11 titled “Catholic Church Final Hearing”.
However, in its wisdom, the Royal Commission effectively censored Professor Hains’ submission by refusing to place any of it on the Royal Commission’s website – along with the other 49 submissions which it has published online (some in redacted form) concerning Issues Paper 11.
On 24 August 2016, Michael Hains received the following pro-forma letter from the Royal Commission:
Dear Dr Hains
The Royal Commission thanks you for your submission in response to Issues Paper 11.
A number of submissions received by the Royal Commission in response to Issues Paper 11 have now been published on the Royal Commission’s website. However, if any material in a submission raises concerns about privacy or fairness, the Royal Commission may publish it with that material removed or decide not to publish it at all.
While your submission has not been published by the Royal Commission, all submissions received will be considered by the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission thanks you for your interest in the work of the Royal Commission.
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
The (anonymous) author of the Royal Commission’s email did not give any specific reasons why Dr Hains’ submission raised concerns about “privacy or fairness”. Dr Hains does not have any right of appeal against this decision. In other words, Dr Hains’ submission has been subjected to censorship by an anonymous bureaucrat who did not provide any reasons for the arbitrary decision.
Royal Commission’s (Apparent) Concern for Gail Furness SC, Stephen Crittenden and Paul Bongiorno – but not Cardinal Pell
The persons referred to by Dr Hains in his submission – namely Cardinal George Pell, Paul Bongiorno, Gail Furness SC, Stephen Crittenden, Professor Kenneth Wiltshire, Gerard Henderson and Andrew Bolt – are all public figures. It is not clear how the Royal Commission’s decision to censor Michael Hains’ submission can be justified with respect to protecting the “privacy” of the public figures cited by Dr Hains.
Likewise, it is not clear how the Royal Commission’s decision to censor Michael Hains’ submission can be justified with respect to “fairness”. All the persons mentioned in Dr Hains’ submission are involved in the public debate. All make criticisms of others – but the Royal Commission believes that some should be protected from criticism without naming names. The evidence indicates that, in this instance, the Royal Commission is primarily interested in shielding its own staff from critical analysis.
For example, Ms Furness has been a fierce cross-examiner of George Pell – even to the extent of asserting that the Cardinal’s response has been “implausible” without following with the usual legal procedure of proving such a serious allegation by the production of an incontrovertible fact.
And Stephen Crittenden – when a high profile journalist at the ABC – was a fierce public critic of the Catholic Church in general and Cardinal Pell in particular. This was documented by Gerard Henderson in his Weekend Australian column of 21 May 2016. The Royal Commission has not addressed the issues raised concerning Stephen Crittenden’s important role within the organisation. It is as if the Royal Commission is in denial about Mr Crittenden’s past comments and writings.
The Royal Commission has also not addressed the issue as to why neither BPL nor Paul Bongiorno were called to give evidence concerning the time when (then Fr.) Paul Bongiorno shared presbytery accommodation with the pedophile Gerald Ridsdale in Warrnambool. Attention has been given, however, to the time when (then Fr.) George Pell shared presbytery accommodation with Gerald Ridsdale in Ballarat East.
Presumably, the Royal Commission also believes that Michael Hains’ assertion that it is acting outside its terms of reference is unfair. Censoring Dr Hains’ submission is one means of ignoring the suggestion that the Submissions document drafted in part at least by Stephen Crittenden goes beyond the Royal Commission’s terms of reference. Notably, the Royal Commission has not responded to Professor Hains’ critique.
Clearly, the Royal Commission is not concerned about privacy or fairness with respect to Cardinal George Pell – who was subjected to hostile cross-examination by Gail Furness SC without objection from Justice McClellan. Also, it is unlikely that the Royal Commission is concerned about privacy and fairness with respect to Gerard Henderson and Andrew Bolt – both of whom have been criticised in correspondence from the Royal Commission’s chief executive officer Philip Reed. So it can only be assumed that the Royal Commission’s concern about privacy and fairness relates only to Stephen Crittenden, Paul Bongiorno and the Royal Commission itself.
Royal Commission Protects Royal Commission
And so it has come to pass that – in deciding whether or not to publish submissions which the Royal Commission itself invited – the Royal Commission is busy protecting its legal team and its staff from legitimate criticism by censoring submissions which it itself invited.
Media Watch Dog is willing to publish a response from the Royal Commission – in uncensored form.