The world leader of the Salvation Army says he was not prepared for the horror of what is emerging about their children’s homes in Australia.
In a letter from Andre Cox read at a hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on Monday, he said he was disturbed “to the very depths of his being” by what he was reading out of Australia.
“While we knew that many of the stories would be harrowing, nothing could really prepare us for the full horror of the stories that are emerging.”
He said he had written to leaders of the army in 126 countries to ensure their policies and procedures were regularly updated and implemented without exception and called on the army in Australia to ensure its procedures were robust.
The head of the army’s eastern territory in Australia, General James Condon, cried in the witness box at Monday’s hearing when he spoke about listening to the stories of abuse victims at boys’ homes in NSW and Queensland.
He also said the army would be interested in engaging in the dialogue about a national redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse, which had been suggested by the Catholic and Anglican churches.
Simeon Beckett, counsel advising the commission, asked him if it would surprise him to hear that journals detailing inspections of boys’ homes in the ’70s had not been available when the commission sought them.
“I am surprised they are not available,” Mr Condon said.
“They might have decided not to keep them … our records are good.”
He told Mr Beckett he knew of no instances where the Salvation Army “destroyed records relating to its boys’ homes in order to conceal any wrongdoing”.
He said he anticipated being able to provide more records in coming weeks.
Mr Condon became upset when he was questioned about his decision to only recently suspend Major John McIver, one of five officers against whom the commission has heard serious allegations.
In the 1970s, Mr McIver served at Bexley Home for Boys in Sydney and the Alkira Home for Boys at Indooroopilly in Queensland and evidence has been given of alleged physical and sexual assaults by him. He was suspended from the army on January 30.
Mr Condon said he suspended him primarily because he had heard survivors tell stories of abuse and had been contacted on Facebook by another victim.
He paused his evidence because of his distress: “I have been impacted greatly … I have felt their (survivors’) pain and that is the reason I took the decision to suspend … McIver.”
He outlined regulations in place at the time which included that there should be as few punishments for abusers as possible.
“A collision of failures rather than the conspiracy of cover-ups is the Salvation Army’s record of this shameful chapter of our history,” he said.
In a statement, he read: “Once again I want to express our unreserved apology to all who were harmed in any way at all. We are so sorry for every instance when children were sexually abused by our personnel, or while in our care.”
Echoing a sentiment expressed on Friday by Major Peter Farthing of the Salvation Army, Mr Condon said the army’s great failure was to allow “evil and damaged people” to get away with child sexual abuse.