Francis Sullivan Clergy Abuse
Title: Honour recognises Royal Commission role and a lifelong fight for the vulnerable
Author: Genevieve Jacobs
Publisher: The Riot-ACT
For years, as the horror of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse unfolded in the news and on our television screens, a familiar Canberra face also appeared.
Francis Sullivan was the CEO of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, whose role was to oversee the Church’s engagement with the Royal Commission and to develop new policies and procedures to protect children in the future.
He has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours list with an AM for distinguished service to the community, particularly through social justice and legislative reform initiatives, and to health and aged care.
He walked the most difficult of paths as he both officially represented the Church in the Royal Commission and at the same time became a conduit for the anger and despair expressed by victims and ordinary Catholics at seemingly endless revelations of abuse, complicity and internal cover-ups.
“It was clear that the might and power of the institution instinctively worked against the victims,” Francis says. “There was rhetoric that seemed to favour them, but the actions of safeguarding the church spoke more powerfully, even where the welfare of defenceless children was being literally overridden.”
It was an experience that shook him powerfully, forcing him to question everything he thought he knew about the church of which he remains a member.
“It was a startling revelation for me,” he says.
“I began to experience not only the frustration that victims and survivors had but also the horror that an organisation like the Catholic Church would be so craven as to look after itself rather than the welfare of children.
“I expected the church to be on the side of human dignity. I expected the church to stand up for what is right and just, but so often that wasn’t the case. The fact that it would perpetuate a culture of concealment to protect the personalities and reputations of priests and bishops – if that was hard for me then how much more devastating was it for the victims?”
Francis told church leaders early on that he would not defend the indefensible. And it took “about half a minute to realise just how much was indefensible”. The only feasible course, he says, was to be a voice for ordinary Catholics in the pews, schools, hospitals and social services.
“I try to remind people that the Catholic Church is the whole assembly of baptised Catholics, not the institution of the bishops and priests and nuns,” he says. “What’s been so horrible is that everyday Catholics have been associated with the crimes of the institution.”
For more information visit: