If Matt Casey’s Catholic faith was ever tested over the past eight years, he remembered his late father’s wise words.
“He said it was important not to let the church, a human organisation, get in the way of your faith. It’s the best piece of advice I ever had,” he said.
“People have said to me that they don’t want anything to do with the church ever again, but it doesn’t mean God doesn’t love them.”
Mr Casey, a former Goulburn detective, retired from his role as director of the Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding on June 30. It was established by the Archbishop of Canberra/Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, in October, 2015 in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. However Mr Casey’s previous work with the Archdiocese since 2008 has covered child protection and safeguarding across not just schools and churches but its organisations. It was during his initial work as coordinator for parish support that he discovered several professional standards matters and raised them with the Archbishop.
“We then realised the extent of work that had to be done in ensuring people had appropriate working with children checks. When I later took on the role I picked up historic complaints of abuse, some of which dated back to 1946,” Mr Casey said.
The directorship brought together a wealth of skills accrued over 28 years as a police officer and detective, and then afterward in restorative justice and as a counsellor. His job was to investigate complaints, identify recompense from a monetary and pastoral perspective, work with lawyers and the Ombudsman’s office.
Mr Casey said the model, since taken up by other dioceses, was unique for its independence and his ability to refer complaints to the Ombudsman’s office, without input from clergy.
“I was assisting people who had been wronged and victimised in ways that impacted on the rest of their life, and identifying what needed to be done,” he said.
“I was working with victims and their families and giving them an opportunity to be heard and to be believed.”
In his 40 years’ experience dealing with child abuse complaints, Mr Casey said occasions on which claims were “absolutely false” were rare. As such, his starting point with church complainants was to believe them.
He told The Post that while many people claimed “cover-ups” within the church, he discovered something different.
“There have been some cover ups but a lot of what I’ve seen (in terms of investigation) was done with the best of intentions but absolute incompetence,” he said.
“In the police there are reasons police constables aren’t given sexual assault cases to investigate; it’s left to detectives. So what we had was people within the church with absolutely no experience being asked to investigate these matters.
He acknowledged that some accounts moved him to tears.
“It’s pretty hard to shock me but every now and again I’d be taken aback by what people told me,” Mr Casey said.
“When you then had to consider how it impacted their life, it was horrendous.”
But there were also rewarding moments. By applying a restorative justice framework, some were able to reconnect with their family and community, which Mr Casey described as a “marvellous thing.”
“If the only measure in recompense is a dollar figure, it will never be enough. A really important question is what can we do to help,” Mr Casey said.
He told The Post he understood some victims’ rejection of the church but it was vital to extend the opportunity to reconnect with God. All the while, the long-time Saints Peter and Paul’s parishioner maintained his own faith.
“We can open the door but they don’t have to walk back through. Our job is to work with them,” he said of victims.
Mr Casey said he’d been shocked by the scale of abuse uncovered Australia-wide by the Royal Commission, saying it was horrendous and should never have happened.
But he argued the Diocese was “absolutely committed” to an informed response and in some respects had been a trailblazer in implementing change.
In ‘retirement’ Mr Casey plans to do some travel with wife, Pam and spend more time with their grandchildren. He will also undertake consultancy in child protection and restorative responses and continue membership of numerous related boards.
Maria Hicks has since taken over his role.