It’s Father Dave and I’m writing to you from sunny New Zealand! You wouldn’t think it would be sunny here this time of year as we’re in the middle of winter but we’ve been enjoying some beautiful weather! 🙂
My primary reason for being here was because Soren (my son) was competing in the 2014 Oceanic Yu-gi-oh Championships, held in Auckland! If you don’t know how to play Yu-gi-oh you’ll have to Google it as it would take quite a few missives to explain it. Soren and I started playing together about five years ago and I can rarely beat him now.
At any rate, Soren came 3rd in the Auckland championships. We won’t be getting the free tickets to the world championships in Rome later this year but Soren did get a lovely crystal trophy. I’m happy to say that he seems more than satisfied with that. 🙂
Anyway, we’ve turned Soren’s competition into a family holiday and now we’re two hours south of Auckland, enjoying the geysers and boiling mud-pools of Rotorua!
Trying to Relax
It’s good for me to be away. I know I need to take a break but, in truth, I find that I can never fully relax nowadays.
As my body starts to slow down I find that the emotions of so many recent events start to bubble to the surface of my consciousness. I deal with them the only way I know how – I write about them. I’ve been writing rather a lot lately, most especially about the terrible things currently going on in Israel/Palestine and in Syria/Iraq.
Barack Obama’s recent plea to the US Congress for 500 million dollars to arm ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels has been giving me nightmares!
In the recent Syrian elections Bashar Al-Assad received 88% of the vote. Whether we like him or not, it is undeniable now that Assad is the democratically elected leader of the country, and yet Mr Obama is spending millions and millions of dollars trying to topple him in the name of ‘democracy’. How do we make sense of that? And couldn’t the US President have found a better use for all that money back home?!
I did write an article about this entitled “Why it’s OK to arm ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels” (which you’ll find here). The other story that keeps plaguing me at the moment is one much closer to home, and I’m going to debrief that one with you now.
Death in Dulwich Hill
There was a little girl living in a youth refuge near our church. She was 12 years old when I first came into contact with her.
A youth-worker friend rang me late one night and told me that this girl had told to her that she was being sexually abused in the refuge she was staying in – abused by one of her carers!
My friend wasn’t sure what to do because the girl had only confessed to her on the condition that she kept her confidence. I told my friend that she had to report the case immediately and that if she didn’t I would. As I pointed out, such cases are never isolated. If a young girl is being abused by a staff-member we can be almost certain that this ‘carer’ is abusing others as well and will go on abusing children until he is stopped! You cannot maintain confidentiality in cases like this!
I hate to say it, but I have been exposed to all this too many times! In my years of working with young people I have been involved in multiple cases of child sexual abuse and they were all terrible! This girl’s case though is the worst I have ever dealt with.
It turned out that this poor little girl was being abused not by one of her ‘carers’ but by two of them – one who worked the day shift and one who worked the night shift! Apparently the girl was being raped by one man during the day and at night the other man would clock in and it would happen again
Even now I find it hard to write these words without the tears welling up in my eyes. In all my years of working with young people – so many of them in dark and desperate situations – I have never come across such a terrible case of human neglect as this one, and it was happening in what was supposed to be a ‘refuge’!
To cut a long story short, the case was reported, all the staff at the youth refuge were sacked (bar one), and charges were laid by the police. Unbelievably though the abused girl was kept in the same refuge!
The girl’s response was to try to escape the refuge. She did this regularly and ran off to join her brothers (who were staying in another refuge on the other side of Sydney). Each time she did this the staff would find her and return her.
Meanwhile my youth-worker friend tried to organise to have the girl fostered out to a loving family. She had the family organised and ready to go but the whole process was held up by seemingly-endless red-tap. Unfortunately, before the fostering process could be finalised, the little girl took her own life.
This in itself was unbelievably tragic, but in some ways the heaviest blow was still to come.
The court case against the girl’s abusers was due to start the week after her death but when my youth-worker friend turned up to court to testify she found that the case had been dismissed. The chief witness for the prosecution was dead and so the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) had dropped the case!
What to do?
My youth-worker friend and I refuse to let go of this!
I’ve had zero response from the police who were involved. The woman in charge of the case told me that it was a police matter and that I should leave it with her. I told her that this is much more than just a police matter!
Some of my peers have assured me “Oh, don’t worry. Even if these paedophiles aren’t caught this time, they’ll slip up sooner or later and they’ll be brought to justice eventually”. But this just leaves me cold! How many more young lives are going to have to be destroyed before this happens?!
As we all know, cases like this have repercussions that do damage across generations. Abused children (if they survive to adulthood) often grow up to become abusers themselves, and so the cycle of degradation and suffering continues!
I’m guessing that if these two child-rapists are on the loose for another 5 years each, they could abuse hundreds of children between them, with unthinkable damage being passed on to generations to come!
The good news we received in only the last few days is that we may be able to get this case to the attention of our current ‘Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse’. If we could get a hearing there we might see some results.
At the very least we need some kind of provision in the law that ensures that persons who have been charged with child-related offences like this – even if they have not been found guilty – can be barred from future work with young people!
I appreciate, of course, that everyone has the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Even so, in cases like this we need to balance that right against the horrendous price paid by vulnerable children when people like this can’t be brought to justice!
I’m hopeful that we can bring this to the attention of the Royal Commission. Will you pray with me for that please?
If that doesn’t work we’ll try to get the story before the media and see if we can get some community traction for change! If you have any other ideas, please do pass them on. Whatever happens, we are not going to let go of this so long as the lives of so many children are at stake.
How trite it seems to now move on to my sermon, especially when it’s a sermon on the Doctrine of the Trinity! And yet, if it’s not relevant to talk about the nature of God under circumstances such as this then when is it relevant?
I appreciate that many people see doctrine in general, and the Doctrine of the Trinity in particular, as being academic and esoteric vestiges of a bygone era. I disagree.
For me the Doctrine of the Trinity is a uniquely Christian insight into the humanity of God! It is the bold claim that God is not locked away in His Heaven, happily removed from the sufferings of this world. Rather God is one who suffers and dies in this world, and so shares fully in the human experience of physical and psychological abuse!
Let me end today’s missive with a brief tribute to a friend and colleague who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly only a couple of weeks ago – John McIntyre, the Bishop of Gippsland.
John was a prophet, a reformer, a friend and a mentor. He was rector of Redfern (another tough inner-city parish) for most of the time I’ve been at Dulwich Hill. His work with the local Indigenous people of that region was legendary!
My enduring memory of John was when I was leaving the office of the state government Minister for Health, where I’d been arguing a case for reforming laws regarding juvenile drug-use. As I left the office I found John in the waiting room, accompanied by two Aboriginal elders. We shook hands and smiled as we passed.
That summed up our relationship for me. We rarely worked together but we were always working side by side. He was an inspiration and a friend and will be sorely missed by so many of us!
That’s enough for now. We will speak again soon.
Until then I remain …
Yours in the Good Fight,
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About Father Dave Smith
Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four