A senior Catholic nun who admitted to treating child abuse victims without compassion has vowed to “right the wrong of the past”, as a public hearing into a Queensland orphanage wraps up.
The public apology by Sisters of Mercy national head Berneice Loch came as it was revealed that elderly nuns from her congregation were ashamed and upset after being accused of abusing children.
Sister Loch initially reacted with scepticism when adults who had grown up at the Neerkol orphanage, near Rockhampton, came forward in the 1990s with claims they had been physically and sexually abused by nuns and priests.
On Wednesday she reiterated a 1997 formal apology made to former residents by the Sisters of Mercy, who ran the orphanage until it closed in 1978.
“Where we have made decisions that were wrong, where we have let down or disappointed past residents, I apologise,” Sister Loch said outside the Rockhampton court house, where a hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse concluded.
“We have learned much over the past 20 years and we have over the past two weeks also learned.
“I guarantee that we will continue to work as hard as possible to right the wrong of the past.”
Inside, a former senior member of the nuns’ congregation revealed that in the 1990s she had contacted up to five surviving sisters (now deceased) who had been named as perpetrators by abuse victims.
Di-Anne Rowan testified they mostly didn’t recall abusing the children, but the allegations “changed” them.
“It did affect them very deeply and they were ashamed, embarrassed, upset,” she said.
Ms Rowan said just one nun agreed to meet with her accusers because the others were anxious about not recalling the abuse, and causing further hurt.
The inquiry heard the Sisters paid out $555,000 to 75 abuse victims after selling the Neerkol property for $1.43 million.
Ms Rowan agreed it was modest compensation but said the rest of the money was put towards providing ongoing financial and other support to former residents.
Lawyers have been given 10 weeks in which to file closing written submissions before the three presiding commissioners prepare their final report on Neerkol.