Broken Rites Australia is not connected with any religious denomination. However, each member of the Broken Rites executive team had a Catholic background and each of us has been hurt by Catholic Church sex-abuse - and by the church's habit of cover-up. We are therefore motivated to support other victims.
The first Broken Rites cases, which we began researching in 1993, resulted in a number of Catholic priests and religious Brothers being convicted in the criminal courts in subsequent years. The resulting publicity prompted more Catholic survivors to contact Broken Rites for advice about gaining justice. This helps to explain why we have ended up helping primarily Catholic victims.
The Broken Rites executive team are semi-retired professionals, with experience in research and advocacy. We donate our time and expertise to helping victims through Broken Rites.
Our articles are written in a professional, non-sensational manner.
Our articles expose the perpetrator (and the cover-up) but we protect the privacy of victims.
The Broken Rites case studies occurred in parishes, church schools, church youth clubs or church-affiliated children's homes. The offences involved priests, or religious brothers, or lay teachers in church schools, or other church personnel.
This Broken Rites research has found that:
This culture of church sexual abuse was successfully concealed from the public until Broken Rites began exposing this cover-up in Australia in 1993. A similar exposure developed in the United States, especially, after the year 2000, but Broken Rites Australia was already a pioneer in this field.
The church victims who have contacted Broken Rites include males and females.
Broken Rites has helped to make the Australian public aware of church-abuse of children. In 2013 this culminated in the Australian Government establishing a Royal Commission of Inquiry into how religious organisations have handled (or mis-handled) the issue of child sex-abuse.
And Broken Rites research has also unearthed a prevalence of church-abuse of vulnerable adults. For example, the victim might be a single or separated or unhappily married woman (or a sick or medicated woman) who talked to a priest (or hospital chaplain) for pastoral support and was then sexually abused in the course of this "counselling". A psychiatrist who did that to a patient would face de-registration, so why not a clergyman?
Since 1993, Broken Rites Australia has advised each church victim about the two main steps in seeking justice:
Step 1: The victim is entitled to have a confidential chat with detectives in the Sexual Crimes Squad in the state police force to see if the police can prosecute the perpetrator. Some examples of these criminal cases, in which Broken Rites supported the victims, are given in Section A on our Black Collar Crime page.
Step 2: Later, after the police have completed (or have decided against) a criminal prosecution, the victim can demand a civil settlement from the church authorities to make up for the hurt that the abuse (and the cover-up) caused to the victim's life. Some examples of these civil cases, in which Broken Rites supported the victims, are given in Section B on our Black Collar Crime page.
This article will now examine these two steps in detail.
Broken Rites can give victims the contact details for an appropriate police unit in the state where the victim lives. Some Australian states have a specialist unit of detectives to investigate sexual crimes and child abuse. These detectives are experienced at listening to a victim's story.
These detectives may be from the Criminal Investigation Bureau or (in some States) from the Sex Crime Squad. In Victoria in 2013, the Sex Crime Squad appointed a special team of detectives, called "Task Force Sano", to investigate sex-abuse crimes in religious organisations. In New South Wales, the Sex Crime Squad has appointed taskforces to investigate sex-crimes (and cover-ups) in a particular region of the state (for example, in the Newcastle region).
It is the victim, not Broken Rites, who talks to the detectives. Only the victim can provide the information. Broken Rites merely tells the survivor the relevant police phone number.
The detectives will have a confidential chat with the survivor and will tell the survivor whether or not a prosecution is viable.
Sometimes, when survivors consult the police, the police are already interested in this offender because previous victims have contacted the police. Thus, in many of the Broken Rites court cases, the offender was charged in relation to several (or many) victims.
Any victim has the right to opt out of the investigation process at any time. The police would then continue acting on behalf of the remaining victims in the case.
As a result of these police cases, a number of Catholic priests and brothers have been sentenced in Australian courts. Our Black Collar Crime page gives examples of some prosecutions in which Broken Rites supported the victims.
In the majority of our Black Collar Crime court cases, the offender pleaded guilty.
In addition to the examples on our Black Collar Crime page, a number of priests and religious Brothers are currently before the courts or awaiting hearings. And others (not yet listed on our website) are currently under police investigation.
In Australia today, it is often possible for police to charge an adult regarding a child-sex crime even though the crime may have occurred many years ago. Australian courts recognise that church victims are often intimidated into silence for many years — usually until after they become adults.
Child sex-abuse is always a criminal offence and the offender (if prosecuted by the police) is not allowed to claim "consent" as a legal defence.
When a church sex-offender is convicted, this helps the healing process for victims. Every conviction encourages new victims to contact Broken Rites, alerting us to other offenders.
Even if the offender has died, it is still worthwhile for the victim to have a chat with the Sex Crime Squad because Australian police are now (at last) becoming interested in the cover-ups. Concealing (or aiding and abetting) a crime is itself a crime.
After the prosecution process (if any) is completed, a victim can demand a financial settlement from the church authorities for the damage that has been caused to the victim's life. The best way of doing this is if the victim's solicitor negotiates the terms of the settlement with the church's solicitor. But, for Catholic Church victims, the victim's solicitor must be one who has had previous experience in tackling the Catholic Church — and very few solicitors have had this experience.
In expectation of these settlements, the various Catholic dioceses and religious orders pay an annual premium to the church's own insurance company, Catholic Church Insurances Limited.
Gaining a settlement can give a victim a feeling of empowerment, especially if the offender has also been successfully prosecuted by the police — a double victory.
If the victim "does not need the compensation money", he or she can donate the money to a charity.
Unfortunately, instead of first consulting the detectives in the state police force, many Catholic Church victims report the crime not to the police but to the criminals' friends and colleagues in the church through the church's in-house complaints system (the Professional Standards Office, or PSO, also known as "Towards Healing"). This mistake enables the church to "tip off" the offender about the complaint (thus thwarting any later police investigation). And the church authorities (or their lawyers) are able to remove any incriminating documents from church files before the police arrive.
The Towards Healing system is financed by the church's own insurance office, Catholic Church Insurances Limited. If a victim asks whether Towards Healing has received any previous complaints about Father X or Brother Y, Towards Healing is tempted to say "No". By making no admissions, the Towards Healing is limiting the church's liability and protecting the church's assets.
Many victims have found the Towards Healing system evasive and abusive. For example, Towards Healing is legally obliged to tell the victim: "You have a legal right to go the police." But the victim is left with the impression that "going to the police" means going to the reception counter at a local "cop-shop". The victim is also left with the impression that the prosecution process is a troublesome one.
Broken Rites, on the other hand, tells the victim about the option of arranging to have a confidential (and non-binding) chat with a police detective.
Towards Healing also leaves the victim with the impression that, instead of telling the police, it is "better" to get a "confidential" financial settlement from the church, through Towards Healing. Victims are warned that, if they talk to the police, the church will halt the settlement process.
Many victims wrongly assume that a "confidential" settlement is a "gag order", preventing them from ever telling anybody else about the abuse. In fact, however, the "confidentiality" really refers to the actual payout — that is, the number of dollars.