I watched a fairly disturbing program tonight on 4 Corners on the Catholic Church’s covering up of the molestation of numerous disabled children from St Ann’s School. Below is the backstory to the program. Hit up the link above to watch the program online. It’s astonishing how these sorts of gruesome and cruel stories are being discovered at an almost exponential rate these days. Yet all we hear from the Catholic Church is, “we didn’t know…”.
In July this year, authorities in South Australia decided not to proceed with a case claiming sexual abuse of a child with an intellectual disability. The prosecution formed the view that the child could not give reliable evidence. The accused was released. The parents were enraged.
It was not the first time authorities in this country had made such a decision. Now Four Corners reveals the full story of the children and families from St Ann’s Special School in Adelaide. Speaking openly on television for the first time, parents whose children attended the school in the 80s and 90s tell stories of abuse which they say highlight the limitations of the legal system and the apparent incapacity of the Church to openly confront these issues.
In 1991, police searched the home of Brian Perkins, the bus driver from St Ann’s. They found photographs of several naked children who attended the school. Police moved to prosecute Perkins, but due to a “systems error” he was given bail and absconded.
But this wasn’t the only mistake. Although they knew it was possible that up to 30 children had been abused, the police and the school authorities did not tell all the parents whose children had come into contact with Perkins.
For 10 years nothing was done. Over that time many of the children developed terrible behavioural problems. Finally, as a result of a chance encounter between the parents, the full extent of their children’s abuse was revealed. The parents tell how, in the decade that followed their discovery, they struggled to get justice from the Catholic Church and the police. None of them can understand why the abuse was covered up or why Church authorities have fought so hard – in spite of their offer of a one-off financial payment to some families – to avoid admitting the extent of the abuse.
In light of this, and other cases like it, authorities in South Australia are looking at the law and the way children with a disability can be protected. Whatever happens, it will come too late for the children of St Ann’s.