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How not to interview a paedophile: Royal Commission preview

NEWS | John Sandeman

This week it will be the Anglicans’ turn to be embarrassed as the Royal Commission into the Institution Response to Child Sexual Abuse continues to examine the very sad story of the Church of England Boy’s Society (CEBS) which harboured a paedophile ring that extended over at least three states. This will be the second time the flaws in the response to this scandal has been raked over with regard to the South Australian leg of the abuse.

In 2004 The Honourable Trevor Olsson (then a Judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia) Dr Donna Chung (then a senior lecturer of social work at Uni SA) presented a comprehensive report of how the Adelaide Diocese (region) of the Anglican church responded to the CEBS scandal which broke in that state.

Their report serves as a preview of some of the material that will feature in the national Royal commission.

It is a story with heroes as well as villains. Two ministers, Don Owers and the late Andrew King fought for an effective response to the issue. In protest at continued delay they called a press conference which forced the setting up of the Ollson/Chung board of Inquiry.

The Olsson/Chung report available here in part concentrates on the handling of the case of the late Robert Brandenberg, one of the worst offenders in the CEBS saga with “in excess of 80 young lads” as his victims, and possibly one of the most mishandled of cases. The report recounts “meeting held on 3 April 1995 between the then CEO of  Anglicare (SA), Brandenburg and his immediate manager. “That meeting took place at the instance of the Archbishop, who had received a report from a priest that Brandenburg had been naked in a spa at his home with a ten-year old boy. “

The then CEO of Anglicare accepted Brandenberg’s explanation that the incident had an innocent nature. “The boy’s father had recently died of cancer and Brandenburg was taking an interest in him as part of the parish support system. “

Anglicare staff continued to raise concerns then “On 5 December 1997 a formal, taped interview was conducted between the then CEO and Brandenburg in the presence of  [staff members].  What occurred during the interview was, at the very least, unfortunate.

“In the course of the interview the CEO said to Brandenburg – ‘Clearly the unsubstantiated allegations made against you are pointing to a belief or a suggestion that you have engaged in paedophile activities. As such I feel honour bound to directly ask you that question, I feel sorry but I have to do this.’

“This elicited a somewhat rambling response from Brandenburg about his past long involvement as a youth worker that was not really directly responsive. That reply prompted the following statement by the CEO –

‘I heard in that answer a direct statement that no, while you have been a youth worker for many years you have not engaged in paedophile activities….’

After some further exchanges the CEO said to Brandenburg –

“……..I should advise you that we have warned [a staff member ] that his actions may be defamatory if he were to publish this information … However, as I said at the beginning, given the nature of this organisation, I just feel honour bound that I have to put ….allegations to you and get your response, as I said this is just an information gathering exercise.”

“Shortly afterwards, the CEO said to Brandenburg –
‘okay – so in summary then I understand you to have said the following directly and indirectly:

…You have not engaged in paedophile activities, or activities that could be construed as such. And you are no longer engaged in activities with youth any way in any official capacity, or unofficial. ‘

The report emphsises “A perusal of the relevant transcript reveals that the then CEO did not conduct what could fairly be regarded as a proper, investigative interview. He appears to have approached the task with a closed mind as to any possible guilt on the part of Brandenburg. The manner in which he expressed himself virtually invited negative responses by Brandenburg … the CEO in large measure simply placed words in his mouth.” The then CEO claimed that he was following legal advice in conducting the interview. the Board of Inquiry conclud

Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual abuse

Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual abuse

ed “‘To say the least, if it was given in those terms, the legal advice was unusual.”‘

The Brandenberg interview points up the difficulty Christian leaders have had in believing that sexual offenders operate within their organisations. It has tragic results. As the Olsson/Chung report says,

“It must be said in the plainest terms that what occurred at the time was a gross process failure. Had the matter been properly handled by an

immediate mandated report the real truth concerning Brandenburg’s predatory activities may well have been revealed at a much earlier time.”

(Eternity has chosen not to name some of the people involved in this report.)

 

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