The Salvation Army says it is profoundly sorry for the abuse suffered by children in its care, and events revealed by the royal commission into child sexual abuse represent the greatest failure in its history.
However, the organisation maintains sexual abuse was not widespread after the commission heard evidence of more than 100 cases of children suffering horrendous abuse in homes run by the Salvation Army in Queensland and NSW in the 1960s and 1970s.
As the royal commission moved to finalise its investigation into the church on Monday, counsel for the Salvation Army, Kate Eastman, challenged a statement from counsel assisting the commission that sexual abuse was ‘widespread’ at boys’ homes it ran.
In an apology to survivors, Ms Eastman read a statement from the Salvation Army saying the organisation was ‘profoundly sorry for failing to care for you as you deserved, for the neglect, hurt, abuse and deprivation of human rights that all children are entitled to’.
Ms Eastman said the church ‘acknowledges that this is the greatest failure in its history in Australia’.
She said that in the 113 years from 1883 to 1996, the Salvation Army had 17,831 children in its care across four homes in NSW and Queensland and there had been 157 claims of abuse from children in that time.
She said 115 of those children were from boys’ homes and of 23 perpetrators identified, 19 were Salvation Army officers.
‘We don’t for one moment seek to diminish or oversimplify or justify by historical circumstances but we do submit that the total number of claims against the total number of children reflects a relatively small number of children reporting sexual abuse during their time at the home,’ Ms Eastman said.
Counsel assisting the commission Simeon Beckett said the number of children abused in Salvation Army homes would never be known because many had not come forward or had not been able to speak out.
The commission heard evidence from survivors of extreme sexual and physical abuse meted out by Salvation Army workers at homes in Indooroopilly and Riverview in Queensland, and Bexley and Goulburn in NSW.
Hearings held in January and February heard evidence that the Salvation Army failed to investigate complaints that its staff were abusing boys and did not refer matters to police.
Boys who did report abuse to officials were punished and many did not report abuse for fear they would not be believed and would suffer further punishment.
Ms Eastman also revealed the Salvation Army has dismissed an officer accused of abusing children in the 1970s.
John McIver was suspended by the Salvation Army in February after allegations he sexually abused two boys in a NSW home in the 1960s and 1970s, and whipped a boy with a strap and dislocated his arm during a beating at a home in Queensland in 1975.
On Monday the commission heard McIver had been dismissed from the organisation in June and matters had been referred to police.
The commission will now prepare its report into the events that occurred at Salvation Army homes in the 1960s and 1970s, and into separate events of alleged abuse that have occurred since 1993.