Failures by church “far worse” than physical abuse

Jane Lee [and] Cameron Houston

Paul Hersbach kept his composure until the end.

He, like all the 321 victims of child sexual abuse who have lodged claims to the Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response, had been forced to tell their stories to strangers before.

The first time he spoke about his abuse in detail, it was to two people at Carelink, the Melbourne Responses counselling arm, to explain why he needed access to its services as a primary victim, not a secondary victim. He found this confronting and “exceptionally traumatic”.

“I feel I told them more than I needed to and far more than I believe was reasonably required for them to do their job.”

Mr Hersbach explained how the man he once called “Gramps” had’ sexually abused his father, uncle, brother and himself as a child.

Victor Rubeo, who died on the day he was to appear in court for a committal hearing over charges of sexual abuse, “inserted” himself between father and son over 16 years.

“This despicable act was far worse than any physical abuse could ever have been,” he said.

Mr Hersbach recounted his meeting with the Melbourne Response’s Independent Commissioner, Peter O’Callaghan, QC, which “left no room . . . for compassion, debate or for me, the victim.”

Mr O’Callaghan had instead discouraged him from reporting the abuse to police because he did not think, given the “haziness of your memory”, they would act.

While the compensation panel members who determined how much he was to receive in compensation were more sympathetic to his plight, the process -
this week the focus of the royal commission - was marred by fear and confusion.

At its conclusion, Archbishop Denis Hart had signed a letter to Mr Hersbach with “Yours sincerely in Christ” and put a cross next to his name, as Rubeo used to do, in what he described as a generic show of sentiment: “It showed their lack of understanding of how I feel.”

He was momentarily relieved when he signed the deed to formally accept the church’s offer of compensation.

But it now sits in a drawer in his home as a permanent reminder of the day he signed away his right to take civil action against the church in court.

Mr Hersbach does not plan to sue the church, but wants it to release all victims from their deeds.

All victims’ claims should be reviewed independently and re-assessed without the $75,000 cap the church currently imposes. The church’s response to victims should be overhauled, using the royal com-mission as a blueprint.

“I do not need or want a personal apology. I do not want the church burned down,” His voice faltered only now. “All I want is for someone from the Catholic Church to show compassion and give me a call one day and say, ‘Hi Paul how are you going these days? Can I do anything to help?’”

Most of the court’s public gallery, filled with fellow victims, victims’ advocates and church representatives, applauded him as he left the stand.


Victims tell of church compo fight

Cameron Houston [and] Jane Lee

Victims of clerical abuse have told the royal commission that the Catholic Church’s response was primarily concerned with avoiding civil litigation and limiting compensation payouts.

The church was urged to reform its controversial Melbourne Response and review all of the 326 cases it has settled since the system was introduced in 1996 by former archbishop of Melbourne George Pell.

The commission was told on Monday [18 August] that the church paid $17.2 million in ex gratia payments for child sexual abuse claims over the past 18 years, which included medical and counselling expenses. Victims received an average payout of $36,100.

The cost of administering the Melbourne Response was more than $17 million, which included $7.7 million to Independent Commissioner Peter O’Callaghan, QC, and his staff.

Serial paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell was responsible for the largest number of payouts, with 50 victims receiving compensation for abuse spanning from 1944 to 1992.

Chrissie Foster told a packed room in Melbourne’s County Court that O’Donnell was directly responsible for the suicide of her eldest daughter, Emma, and the permanent brain damage sustained by her daughter Katie in a car accident. O’Donnell preyed upon both girls when they attended Oakleigh’s Sacred Heart primary school in the late 1980s, despite the church receiving repeated complaints about the priest from 1958.

Mrs Foster and her husband Anthony Foster fought back tears as they recounted their decade-long battle with the church and its lawyers. They pleaded for a more compassionate system that recognised the full extent of damage caused by predatory priests.

“Our view is that the Melbourne Response should be re-evaluated to ensure it complies with the legal and moral standards of our society to ensure just compensation and care for all victims,” Mrs Foster told the commission.

“To be clear, we think it is appropriate to revisit every previous settlement under the Melbourne Response to make sure proper financial compensation was paid.”

In August 1998, the Fosters received a letter from the church’s lawyers Corrs Chambers Westgarth informing them the church had agreed to pay $50,000 for the abuse to their eldest daughter.

The letter said it was an alternative to litigation, which would be strenuously defended.

The legal letter was accompanied by a written apology from former archbishop Pell.

“I felt there was an apology and then a threat. It was more of the same from the Catholic Church,” Mrs Foster said.

In 2002, the Fosters launched civil proceedings against the church, which included former archbishop of Melbourne Sir Frank Little and his successor Denis Hart as defendants.

The church settled the case in 2006 and agreed to pay $750,000, but refused to accept any liability.

Mrs Foster said the money could never compensate her family for the misery caused by O’Donnell.


Former Adass Israel School principal to be extradited over alleged child sex abuse

Jewel Topsfield

The former head of an Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne will be extradited to Australia to face charges of sexually abusing her students.

Malka Leifer, a former principal of the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, fled to Israel in 2008 after the school board sacked her, following complaints of inappropriate conduct with students.

The Australian Attorney-General’s Department said Mrs Leifer had been arrested in Israel in response to an extradition request made by Australia.

“Ms Leifer is wanted to face prosecution in Victoria for alleged sexual assault offences,” a spokesperson said.

The Israeli news website Ynet reported that a resident of Emmanuel, a settlement town in the West Bank, was arrested on Sunday [17 August].

It said the woman was suspected of sexually abusing three sisters at an Orthodox high school in Melbourne between 2004 and 2008.

In 2008, parents told The Age Mrs Leifer had molested students at school, at her home and prob-ably at school camps.

They said one victim had attempted suicide.

The parents, who would not be named, said that Mrs Leifer would share her bed with different students when her rabbi husband was away.

“It’s very sensitive, because a girl who has been molested would find it hard to get married, so it’s very secret, hush-hush,” a parent told The Age at the time.

Sergeant Sharon Darcy from Victoria Police said the Moorabbin sexual offences and child abuse investigation team was investigating complaints of sex offences at an Elsternwick school. “As this is a current investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Sergeant Darcy said.

The extradition comes as a former student is taking legal action against Mrs Leifer and the Adass Israel School for breach of duty.

Solicitor Nick Mazzeo, of law firm Lennon Mazzeo, confirmed one of his client’s cases is listed for trial in May 2015, seeking damages for pain, suffering and economic loss. Ynet reported that the arrested woman fled to Israel two days after details of about 74 sex offences allegedly committed against the three sisters were revealed.

Manny Waks, the CEO of Jewish child sexual abuse victim advocacy group Tzedek, welcomed the development. “It should be seen in the greater context of the ongoing child sexual abuse scandal that has been plaguing the Australian Jewish community in recent years where we have seen numerous convictions in both Melbourne and Sydney,” he said.

“Many victims are no longer willing to remain silent, and neither is the community.”


God save me from religion in state schools

Chris Fotinopoulos

Despite constitutional efforts to pro­tect one's freedom from religion, God continues to be imposed on Australi­ans who do not wish to receive Him.

I was instructed to observe God at my state primary school in the early 1970s when all students sang "God Save the Queen" at assembly. <*>d, despite
"Advance Australia Fair" now being our national anthem, His presence still persists in some schools today.

I was surprised to discover recently that my nephew's state school has stu­dents recite a pledge which begins with the words "I love God". Parents who objected to this were dismissed by the principal as "petty" and told: "We are, after all, a Christian society."

This kind of righteous arrogance was on display at the Access Ministries meeting 1 attended two weeks ago.

The peak provider of school religious instruction convened the meeting after a new ministerial directive switched delivery of religious instruc­tion in state primary schools from an "opt-out" to an "opt in" arrangement.

Parents will now have to positively consent to their child receiving SRI, and principals can cancel SRI based on low numbers or if they believe the programs are against school values.

The changes have clearly unsettled Access Ministries, with general man­ager of Christian education and train­ing Linda White imploring the audience to "Embrace the opportunity we still have . . . to enhance our relevance."

Australians are free to worship. They are free to take an oath, attend places of worship, enrol their children in Sunday school and opt their children into Special Religious Instruction.

Australians are also free to reject religion. And this is what religious organisations such as Access Ministries don't get. They do not see their at­tempts to evangelise children as an attack on one's right to freedom from religion. They only see those who choose not to share their narrow moral view of the world as lost.

Chris Fotinopoulos is a secondary school teacher and writer.


Secrets, lies and ex-sect leader chooses life inside

Chris Johnston

Guilt can be a heavy burden; and this seems to be the case with the latest chapter in the disturbing story of a senior Victorian sect leader now in jail on child sex charges.

Ten days ago Chris Chandler, 56, drove to Melbourne from his property on French Island, in Western Port. Then he went to the Melbourne Magistrates Court to hand himself in.

Chandler was a leader of the secretive Bible sect known as Friends and Workers, or the Two by Twos, who have 2000 Victorian members. He had already
admitted his guilt in eight charges in a Gippsland court including unlawful indecent assaults, indecent assaults and gross indecency on three young female victims.

But Chandler baulked at his sentence of a year’s jail with a non-parole period of three months, telling his lawyers that, while he was guilty, he wasn’t guilty to that extent.

But then something changed. He decided he wanted to go to jail. When he turned up at Melbourne’s central magistrates court to surrender ? not the
Morwell court his hearings had been held in, and not the one closest to his home ? he hadn’t told the policeman who made the charges stick what he was
about to do.

Sergeant Darren Eldridge of Moe police was surprised to hear Chandler had given up his fight. He had been working on the case for two years. “We were assisted in different ways by a number of congregation members,” he said.

The sect is a strange offshoot of the Cooneyites; it adheres strongly to Bible sections of Matthew 10 to do with Jesus sending out disciples to cleanse “impure spirits”.

They do not have church buildings or headquarters and do not have written policies or doctrines. Travelling missionaries live with sect families for extended periods.

Television, radio, movies, dancing and jewellery are banned. It is strong in Victoria because the Irish founder of the Cooneyites was the Protestant evangelist Ed-ward Cooney, who moved to Mildura and died there in 1960.

A submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups by WINGS, an online group of ex-sect members, said it has been “haphazard” in dealing with many sexual abuse allegations.

The sect was linked to the suicides of Narelle and Stephen Henderson, aged 14 and 12, of Pheasant Creek near Kinglake, in 1994. Narelle’s suicide note read: “We committed suicide because all our life we were made to go to meetings. They try to brainwash us so much and have ruined our lives.”

The sect holds five Victorian conventions a year at Speed (near Mildura), Colac, Drouin and Thoona (near Benalla), where a prominent sect family has a farm.

A Fairfax Media investigation last year established sect leaders knew of the allegations against Chandler but promoted him, in 1991, to the senior position of “worker”, or minister ? meaning he was staying in private homes until 2004 in Wodonga, Shepparton, Launceston and rural Tasmania.

He later positioned himself as a counsellor and sect contact for child sexual abuse victims. He recently returned from stints for the sect in South America and Africa.

The Victorian and Tasmanian leader of Friends and Workers, David Leitch, of Melbourne, is known to be close to Chandler. He would not comment, but an ex-sect source claimed he has a file on alleged sexual offences by Chandler, which he has not given to police. Leitch sacked a sect leader for reporting sexual abuse in 2013.

Ex-member “Ruby” (not her real name), of Gippsland, said Chandler was close to her family and that she was sexually assaulted by him in 1989 when she was 10. Her allegations led to one of the eight charges against him. She says the pair were at a beach when he rubbed his erection against her and asked if she “wanted to make him happy”. He later tried to have a conversation with her about sexual rights and consent, she said.

She said the sect had a “culture of secrecy” and distrust of outsiders. Sexual abuse of young people and children was common. She said she was visited by sect head Leitch before she went to police. “He said to me ‘if you go to the police there’s not much they can do’.”

She said Chandler messaged her through Facebook claiming he was molested as a child, that he had a different memory of the beach incident and that he was not a paedophile but rather suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder.

“It is not so much what he did to me,” she said.

“I know he did worse things to others who are not emotionally strong enough to act. I want to get it all out in the open.”

Sergeant Eldridge said Chandler had made contact with family members of other alleged victims before handing himself in.


Christians to upskill school instructors

Benjamin Preiss

The main provider of controversial Christian religious instruction in state schools will shake up training for instructors, offering accredited courses through a private college.

Access Ministries’ entry into the private training market comes after the resignation of chief executive Evonne Paddison. Acting chief executive Dawn Penney has outlined her plans, including a more open and communicative relationship with the 12 Christian denominations that belong to the group.

Access Ministries is creating its own accredited course in Christian education to be offered in partnership with the Australian College of Ministries. The provider stressed it intends to raise the standard of instructors, not generate income through training.

It is negotiating with the Education Department for a new funding agreement.

Earlier this year the Education Department issued a ministerial directive that schools could withdraw religious instruction if there were insufficient resources. It also said religious instruction must be “clearly opt-in” for parents.

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said religious instruction had no place in state schools.


Bendigo woman behind anti-mosque Facebook page loses bid to stay anonymous

Chris Johnston

A Bendigo businesswoman behind a vehement anti-mosque Facebook page has lost a tribunal bid to stay anonymous.

In a tearful and rambling appearance at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal today, Monika Evers, a co-administrator of the Stop The Mosque in Bendigo page, claimed she had been ‘‘villified’’ online by people who supported the Bendigo mosque proposal, feared for her safety and wanted her name kept out of the media.

But VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer said there was ‘‘insufficient evidence’’ to support her claims of being threatened and that Ms Ever’s ‘‘perception’’ of biased, pro-mosque media reporting was not grounds to have her name suppressed.


Medical Board bid to ban Nitschke over suicide

Harriet Alexander

The Medical Board of Australia has moved to suspend the registration of euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke over his role in the suicide of a man who did not have a terminal illness.

The board has asked Dr Nitschke to show cause why he should not be suspended for public safety.

“The board takes ‘immediate action’ as an interim step when it believes there is a serious risk to public health and safety that needs to be managed,” it said in a statement.

But Dr Nitschke said the decision was based on a media report that had been “selectively edited” and he would fight the action.

The ABC reported last week that the doctor supported Nigel Brayley in taking his own life even though he knew that the Perth man did not have a mental illness.

His actions angered the Australian Medical Association and mental health group beyondblue, which said he had an obligation to help the man seek psychiatric help.

But Dr Nitschke said on Thursday [17 July] that Mr Brayley did not have a mental illness and was of rational mind when he chose to take his life, and the ABC was aware of this.

Mr Brayley approached him after a workshop and said he wanted to die because his life was falling apart, Dr Nitschke said.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you go and talk to someone?’ and he said, ‘Mind your own business’.” He learnt after Mr Brayley died that he was being investigated for the murder of his wife.

“My relationship with him was certainly not a doctor-patient relationship. He was a person I had scant dealings with. He had obtained lethal drugs before he even talked to me,” Dr Nitschke said.

With AAP

Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.


VCAT outs vocal objector to mosque

Chris Johnston

A Bendigo businesswoman behind a vehement anti-mosque Facebook page has lost a tribunal bid to stay anonymous.

In a tearful and rambling appearance at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Monika Evers, a co-administrator of the Stop The Mosque in Bendigo page, claimed she had been “vilified” online by supporters of the mosque proposal, feared for her safety and wanted her name kept out of the media.

But tribunal deputy president Mark Dwyer said there was “insufficient evidence” to support her claim of being threatened, and that Ms Evers’s “perception” of biased, pro-mosque media reporting was not grounds to have her name suppressed.

After his decision, Ms Evers, a business consultant, withdrew her planning objection to the mosque. Her advocate, Andrew Moyle, told the tribunal: “She does not think she can carry through with this. To her the fears are real.”

Other objectors to the two-level, $3 million mosque will tell the tribunal the planning application, passed by a majority of Bendigo councillors last month, breaches parking, noise and traffic regulations. Plans include a café and sports hall.


“High-risk prisoner” Philippines set to deport Islamic convert

Extremist to go free in Australia

Lindsay Murdoch - South-East Asia Correspondent


Philippine authorities are treating Australian religious extremist Musa Cerantonio as a “high-risk and high-value” prisoner, but he is set to walk free after his imminent deportation to Melbourne.

Mr Cerantonio, considered to be one of the most influential Islamic preachers in support of Middle-East jihadists, has been held alone in a cell in an immigration jail inside Metro Manila’s police camp at Taguig City, which also holds many of the Philippines’ top security prisoners.

“He is a VIP ? a high-risk and high-value prisoner,” a guard at the jail told Fairfax Media.

But after the deportation of Mr Cerantonio from the Philippines for immigration violations ? possibly by Saturday [19 July] ? he will not be taken into custody because there are no warrants for his arrest in Australia.

He will, however, remain a “person of interest” for federal police investigating terrorism and violations of the Foreign Incursions and Recruitment Act, which outlaws encouraging others to join foreign paramilitary forces or insurgencies, according to police sources.

Mr Cerantonio, 29, a convert from Catholicism to Islam at the age of 17, was arrested last Friday [11 July] in an apartment on the island of Cebu with a Filipina fashion designer who claims she is his wife.

His arrest was prompted by Australian authorities cancelling his Australian passport, leaving him without valid travel documentation in the Philippines.

Police had been monitoring him in collaboration with Australian agencies for months, including a visit he made to the Muslim-majority region of Mindanao, a hot-bed for a decades-old Muslim insurgency where Islamic fighters are linked to al-Qaeda.

Mr Cerantonio spent Wednesday [16 July] in his cell as category-three typhoon Rammasun pummelled the jail.

After Mr Cerantonio was arrested in a predawn raid, he refused to answer questions from police, who seized 11 SIM cards, microchips, and a computer from his luggage, which are being forensically examined.

Mr Cerantonio was visited by a brother from Australia on Monday [14 July] and officials from the Australian embassy on Wednesday, jail guards said.

Philippine Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Elaine Tan told Fairfax Media that Philippine authorities want to deport Mr Cerantonio as soon as

Media requests to interview him have been denied.

Embassy officials in Manila are arranging temporary documents so he can be flown to Australia. Without a valid passport, he needs such documents to leave.


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