Newspaper article The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Australia)

Sister Admits She Didn't Listen

Newspaper article The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Australia)

Sister Admits She Didn't Listen

Article excerpt

Byline: Austin King Austin.King@capnews.com.au

THE Sisters of Mercy leader admitted she was less than compassionate when sexual and physical abuse victims first started speaking out.

Not once when the allegations of abuse at Neerkol Orphanage first came to light, did Sister Berneice Loch attempt to contact victims, the Royal Commission panel heard yesterday.

That was the first port of call she should have made, she told the commission.

However, rather than contact the witnesses, who last week gave evidence of physical and sexual abuse at the orphanage which was run by the Sisters of Mercy, Sr Loch instead sought information from other Sisters, congregational personnel and sources.

Sr Loch decided to oversee the drafting of a media release to counteract those "sensationalistic" rumours.

That media release was never distributed; it was only drafted as a "measure" if the allegations got too "out of control".

The counsel assisting the commission, Sophie David, grilled Sr Loch for her response to the victims.

She was questioned also about her actions when State Government Minister for Families Kevin Lingard raised the abuse allegations in a parliamentary sitting in September 1996.

Mr Lingard said in his statement: "To date (in 1996), six calls have been received from these former residents... further allegations continue to be received about abuse to both male and female.

"Callers to the hotline allege a pattern of incidents of physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse by the priests and nuns at the orphanage."

Sr Loch responded to that statement yesterday saying, "I have no objection at all either to the hotline or to wishing people to come forward. I think that was a good thing to do.

"The sensationalism of this is what I disagree with."

When Ms David asked Sr Loch if she agreed there was nothing sensational about the Member of Parliament's statement, the latter replied: "There had been no allegation I had heard of, of sexual abuse by a Sister, yes, and that was certainly sensationalised. …

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