The national Catholic agencies for Indigenous affairs and for Social Justice are saddened and disappointed by Friday’s outcome in the case of Stolen Generations members, Peter Gunner and Lorna Cubilo against the Commonwealth.

Mr Peter Smith, Chairman of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) and Bishop William Brennan, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) issued the following joint statement today:

“We are deeply saddened by the outcome of the case brought by Stolen Generations members Peter Gunner and Lorna Cubilo against the Commonwealth. This case affects all of us as Australians. The findings of fact made by the court underline the urgent need for a more adequate and more deeply humane response to the tragedy of the Stolen Generations. Our hearts go out to Peter Gunner and Lorna Cubilo, whose suffering and abuse has been acknowledged by the courts. Our nation needs to do everything it can to make things right. We need to address the continuing effects of the injustices of the past.

“The policy of forcibly removing children of mixed descent from their Indigenous families was based on a presumption that they would be better off away from their Indigenous families and culture. The case of Peter Gunner and Lorna Cubilo tragically demonstrates the kind of ‘care’ that so many of the stolen children received. If some Indigenous parents granted permission for their children to be taken away to receive an education, they certainly did not offer their consent to the kind of treatment experienced by Peter Gunner, Lorna Cubilo and other members of the Stolen Generations. Whether their actions constituted informed consent is doubtful.

“As the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council acknowledged in its 1998 Sorry Day Statement, When all this was happening the Catholic Church did not publicly challenge the policy of assimilation that underpinned the taking of the children. We recognise now that the policy of forcibly taking the children away was, at best, misguided. For our Church’s failure to defend the rights of these children and families, we are truly sorry. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have the right to raise their children in their own way in their own families and their own cultures. The welfare agencies of the Church and the religious orders are working with the Indigenous community to make records available from Church institutions that cared for Indigenous children, and to help families to reconnect.

“We call on the Federal Parliament to explore seriously non judicial processes for acknowledging the suffering of the Stolen Generations and ensuring that adequate resources are available to do everything possible for their healing. For justice to be done, policy errors need to be admitted, the harm that resulted from such policies acknowledged, and its on-going effects addressed. Present generations of Australians will not be free until the truth of our past is openly acknowledged and addressed. The issue is not fundamentally about money compensation, but rather about making relationships right. Spending money on court cases will not restore relationships and contribute to the healing of those who have been harmed.”