Church needs ears to hear, father says

A Victorian man whose son was molested by a priest has joined with another local resident to launch Healesville Education and Awareness Raising (Hear) in a bid to tackle child sexual abuse.

Star News Group reports that Pam Krstic and Ian Lawther will advocate through HEAR Healesville Education and Awareness Raising to safeguard children against sexual abuse and change the way it is dealt with in the courts and by the church.

The two Healesville residents are behind an initiative to tackle child sexual abuse from grass-roots level through to government and the clergy.

Ms Krstic and Mr Lawther were parishioners at St Brigid's Catholic Parish and she was also a teacher at the parish school at the time paedophile priest Fr David Daniel was in charge of the parish - 1990 to 1994. He resigned in December '94, with parishioners told his departure was due to "bad health".

Fr Daniel was convicted on 18 charges of sexual abuse including an assault on Mr Lawther's son.

HEAR aims to educate individuals, families and organisations on building effective safeguards against abuse, including what Ms Krstic says are recognised "grooming" behaviours by paedophiles.

"We would like to see changes in the law so that "grooming" behaviour is recognised as part of the offence as well as the actual molestation.

Ms Krstic said HEAR would also advocate to force church hierarchy to be open and accountable in their dealings with parishioners.

"No assistance was given to the general parishioners. They (the church) didn't explain David Daniel's departure at all. The official line was he had left because he was sick," Ms Krstic said.

Ms Krstic said her requests for a parish meeting after the conviction of Fr Daniel were denied until she discovered that the Yarra Junction Parish had been granted a meeting with the Archdiocese's pastoral team.

She said even then the Healesville meeting, addressed by Maria Kirkwood from the Catholic Education Office, was restricted to people who had been directly affected by Fr Daniel's abuse.

"I believe there are a lot of people in the parish who would like to grapple with this but they are not allowed to," she added.

Mr Lawther said he was shocked when Ms Kirkwood told him at that meeting: "It's happened, put it behind you and get on with your life."

"You don't just put something like that behind you," Ms Krstic said.

"We know now that there are parents in Healesville whose children were at the school then who are worried now about their kids. The pattern is that victims don't disclose sometimes for 10, 20 or even 30 years."

Mr Lawther said by raising awareness they hoped to empower children to speak out. "We want to tell them that it is safe for them to tell their parents and to make them aware that a priest is not God," he said.

Ms Krstic said people who preyed on children could be found in all walks of life, not just in the clergy, and that HEAR aimed to take a broad approach to the problem.

She said HEAR had received a positive response from local mental health and child protection services and from CASA (Centre Against Sexual Assault), and called for parent groups and individuals to contact her if they had ideas or concerns.

Father's rage over innocence lost (Star News Group, 7/8/07)
Hear the truth (Star News Group, 7/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Brigid's Catholic Parish, Healesville
Melbourne Archdiocese

10 Aug 2007