Inquiry bungles church abuse complaint
27th July 2012
Updated 27th July 2012
A VICTIM of sexual abuse - by a Catholic priest - who wrote to a government inquiry into clergy sexual abuse was referred to a Catholic agency, less than a week after the committee's chief executive assured The Age such a conflict could not happen.
Peter Blenkiron, of Ballarat, was appalled when he was referred to Centacare, a Catholic agency he found ''terrible'' when he first reported his abuse several years ago.
He wrote on July 10 to the parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations seeking a simpler method for victims to be heard.
Committee chairwoman Georgie Crozier replied on Wednesday.
Her email included a referral to the Victims Support Agency, which funds a statewide network of victim assistance programs. In Ballarat and Geelong, the program is run by the Catholic agency Centacare.
Mr Blenkiron said being referred to a Catholic agency would lead many victims to avoid the inquiry. He said the issue was broken trust at the deepest level.
''[Abuse] screws up your ability to ever really trust. Blokes out there are struggling to trust, and are told to go back to an arm of the Catholic Church.''
But it was important for victims to be heard. ''The abuse is the snakebite. The venom is the shame, the silence, the secrecy. To talk about it is the antidote.''
The committee's executive officer, Dr Janine Bush, told The Age last week that committee staff had noted the possible conflict created by using Centacare and acted to avoid it.
''We made it clear that there will be no referrals to religion-based agencies,'' she said.
She said parliamentary inquiries committee staff did not usually provide tailored support to prepare submissions for public hearings, but it was available for this inquiry.
Dr Bush could not be contacted yesterday, but the director of Centacare Ballarat, David Beaver, said no victims had approached it since the inquiry was announced. If any did, Centacare would refer them to other non-Catholic agencies.
Mr Blenkiron said he was one of an informal group of 15 Ballarat victims at various stages of healing. He said when he read the submission guidelines, his ''eyes glazed over'', and many victims with post-traumatic stress disorder and difficulties concentrating would be put off. A simple online questionnaire should be an option, he said.
When he was 11, he said, ''Christian Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan (jailed in 1996) would set us up by giving us homework way beyond our capacity. When we couldn't get it done we'd be punished, comforted, then abused.''
Some advocacy groups are offering to help victims prepare submissions, including the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Sexual Assault Victims Advocates, run by Helen Last and former Victoria Police sexual crimes squad head Glenn Davies.
Top QC Bryan Keon-Cohen has written to more than 300 Victorian parish priests, urging them to make submissions.