At a moving event watched around Australia by survivors of child sexual abuse, two of the country’s most tireless champions for justice delivered the 2019 Human Rights Day Oration – Chrissie Foster AM and The Honourable Peter McClellan AM QC.
The Hon McClellan, who chaired the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, singled out the Catholic Church as the only institution whose leaders failed to recognise sexual assaults of children as a crime, as distinct from a moral failure.
“I cannot comprehend how any person, much less one with qualifications in theology and very often further qualifications from recognised universities, could consider the rape of a child to be a moral failure but not a crime,” The Hon McClellan said.
He paid a touching tribute to his co-orator, Mrs Foster, who became one of the key advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse after two of her daughters were abused by a Catholic priest. One of her daughters has since passed away, and he says Mrs Foster has shown great dignity, grace and strength over many years in holding institutions to account.
As he took to the podium, The Hon McClellan told Mrs Foster, “You are my hero. You are my Hero.”
Mrs Foster spoke about her family’s experience, reminding the audience that hers “was just one of thousands of families caught up in the toxic and deadly crime of child assault” within the Catholic priesthood.
Mrs Foster said, “We just don’t want an apology, we want action. We have all given our hearts and souls, we have re-traumatised ourselves to bring forward what happened to us so that the whole of Australia can learn and so that it doesn’t happen again.”
The two speakers were last year’s medallists at the 2018 Human Rights Awards. In her introduction, Australian Human Rights Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AO described their work on behalf of survivors as “the pinnacle of Human Rights achievement in Australia”.
Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, on December 10. Professor Croucher said the declaration was “a great reckoning of nations” just as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was “a great reckoning of this nation”.
She described Mrs Foster as a “fearless and resilient advocate for change” and said The Hon McClellan’s “incredible grace and dignity in managing an extraordinary process of national reckoning is the hallmark of the best of all Royal Commissions and the best of jurists”.