Towards Healing – 5 ways to improve the process for complainants.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (“the Commission”) has heard evidence from a man identified only as “DK” who participated in the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process, together with Patrick Monahan, a solicitor representing Catholic Church Insurances Ltd (CCI) and Michael Salmon, director of the Church’s Professional Standards Office.

The Commission heard that Mr Salmon was appointed to oversee the discussions between DK and CCI. According to DK, he was told Mr Salmon was an independent mediator; Mr Salmon saw himself in a different role:

Mr Salmon has today told the inquiry he does not think the person co-ordinating a compensation hearing needs to be impartial.

“The role of the facilitator is one where the facilitator can be very proactive, and almost a player in the process,” he said.

“There is a blurring around the issues of neutrality and impartiality that one would expect to see in place in a more classic mediation.

“It is about getting the best result that one can get for the victim.” Source: ABC News

Salmon facilitated hundreds of sessions with victims. When DK later saw Salmon defending the Church in a television interview, he felt he had been lied to. In December DK described the entire process as a “sham”.

DK also told the Commission that Monahan’s role at Towards Healing was not explained to him and that Monahan yelled at DK for “taking too long”. Mr Monahan responded saying that was not his style and apologised “if his tone had been sharp” (source: The Australian).

Aside from monetary compensation, DK wanted to use the facilitation session to find out from former members of staff, Brother Gerald Burns and Brother Andrew Moraghan, whether senior staff at St Augustine’s College in Cairns knew of Brother Ross Murrin’s behaviour at the college, including toward DK, and why they had not taken steps to protect students from molestation.

Brother Moraghan told the Commission he only learned that Murrin, who is now in jail for offences against students at Sydney schools, was molesting children when Murrin was arrested in 2008. Brother Burns, who is now retired, was adamant DK never raised the issue of complaints by other boys during the session.

What steps could the Church have taken to provide DK with a more satisfying process? These five things come to mind:

  1. Appoint an external independent mediator or facilitator to ensure the integrity of the process.
  2. Ensure that each person present at the mediation was introduced, and their role explained in some detail, at the start of the process. Generally speaking, only the parties to the conflict will attend a mediation session. Friends, family, support people and legal advisors may attend with the consent of all parties.
  3. Establish a set of rules and a plan for the mediation, including how long the session would run and what would happen if the parties had not addressed all issues at the end of the session. These rules would also address parties’ conduct during the mediation, giving the mediator a basis for intervening if/when Mr Monahan spoke “sharply” to DK.
  4. Create an agenda to ensure that each issue or conflict raised is addressed. DK’s questions and concerns surrounding Brothers Moraghan and Burns’ conduct would have been one agenda item, creating an opportunity for DK to express himself and enter into a dialogue with the brothers.
  5. The mediator may have conduced private sessions with each of the parties, helping to explore and uncover their respective interests and desired outcomes. Armed with this knowledge, the mediator would then help the parties to formulate options and proposals during a subsequent joint session, helping them to focus on each other’s future conduct rather than remaining mired in past events.

What do you think about an officer of the Church being appointed to “facilitate” these settlement discussions? Join the discussion below.

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