by Gordon Nary
Gordon: As someone who has worked for the Catholic Church for many years now, could you tell our readers how that came about?
Simon: As a Catholic boy living in Melbourne, Australia, my parents sent me to be educated by the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) at Xavier College. Following this, I commenced a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies, majoring in the Chinese (Mandarin) language. At the same time, I joined the Australian Army Reserve and undertook duties as a Military Policeman, furthering my childhood dream of becoming a policeman.
I abandoned university to realise that dream and joined the Australian Federal Police, spending the next 14 years as a Federal Agent. During my career, I spent most of my time in the Counter Terrorism area, investigating the bombings in Bali, Indonesia (Operation Alliance) and the most significant and largest terrorism investigation in Australia’s history (Operation Pendennis). I also served in the internal investigations and telecommunications interception areas. I was humbled to receive multiple medals and awards for my service.
In 2013, the Australian Government announced that a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would be held. I did not particularly want to leave my life as a policeman, but I noticed an advertisement for a role as the head of professional standards for all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat (over 420 schools). I thought this role sounded interesting, given the commencement of the Royal Commission. So I went along to the interview, was offered the job on the spot, and I have not looked back.
Gordon: What was it like transitioning from a government role to being employed with the Catholic Church?
Simon: Honestly, it took a lot of adjustment, moving from a structured, bureaucratic and highly regulated environment to one where faith, discernment and hospitality are fundamental to how it operates. It took me around a year to fully understand the church's governance structure and how it works. It is a complex community of many individual organisations. A Jesuit Provincial once told me you cannot rush into an organisation and think that you understand it; you need to travel around and hear, see, breathe and taste it to appreciate it fully.
Gordon: How has your work with the Catholic Church impacted your faith?
Simon: After overseeing professional standards in schools, I took a role as Director of Culture, Risk and Professional Standards for the Australian Jesuit Province. This position entailed overseeing human resources, risk and compliance and professional standards across Australia for the Jesuits. Sadly, a significant component of this role was receiving complaints from survivors of historical child sexual abuse and resolving their complaints.
I had been exposed to the human condition as a policeman and witnessed extreme depravity. However, I had not witnessed this moral corruption in the context of a faith organisation that proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This was at odds with my childhood experiences growing up in the church and has taken me a long time to reconcile.
Gordon: How prevalent is paedophilia in Australia? What would it be if you had the authority to pass a law that would reduce paedophilia?
Simon: Too prevalent. Whilst the Royal Commission shined a very bright light on child abuse in institutions, a major threat to children exists in their homes. Approximately 2.5 million Australian adults (13%) have experienced abuse during their childhood. This includes 1.6 million adults (8.5%) who experienced childhood physical abuse and 1.4 million adults (7.7%) who experienced childhood sexual abuse. Family members are the most common perpetrators. An estimated 81% (861,100) of persons who experienced childhood physical abuse were first abused by a family member, including 78% (824,300) whom a parent first abused.
In terms of sexual abuse, non-familial persons who are known to the victim are the most common perpetrators. An estimated 51% (467,500) of persons who experienced childhood sexual abuse were first abused by a non-familial known person.
In my work, I try to remain forensic and unemotional, but above all, I remain realistic. Child abuse will never be eradicated from society. What is critical is educating children about child abuse and their rights and ensuring adults know how to listen to children, detect abuse, and report it so that appropriate action can be taken.
Gordon: What are you doing now?
After seven years working with the Jesuits, I have started a consultancy (www.safeguardingservices.com.au), which specialises in safeguarding children by assisting organisations with investigations, advice, policy development and training. I now contract to the Jesuits, assisting them and other Catholic orders and dioceses with professional standards. We also have a lot of other faith-based and independent clients in the education and disability sectors.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.