Author Peter Fox acknowledges in his book ‘Walking Towards Thunder’ that so many people supported him, and joined with him, to pressure the then prime minister Julia Gillard to set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse, but there is no doubt that Fox’s fight to put children’s safety ahead of the reputation of the Catholic Church was the catalyst. As has often been stated since, only an atheist, female prime minister would have listened and acted; whatever the truth, the timing was crucial.
What is truly appalling is that a corrupt NSW Police Force destroyed Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s exemplary career in order to protect the Catholic Church, its wealth and power in Australia. It’s difficult to fathom that this corruption could even take hold and destroy hundreds of children’s lives in a modern secular country like Australia.
Fox’s empathy for the children abused by Catholic clergy and their distraught families shines through the pages of this book. The heart wrenching stories are even more soul destroying when no matter what Fox did, there was nowhere to turn to get help for these suffering children, while paedophile priests were shifted around from parish to parish, supported by bishops and archbishops. We now know that paedophile priests passed around the names of children they had abused to other priests so that some children were raped repeatedly by more than one priest and yet the NSW Police and the Church continued to attack Peter Fox and deny this was happening.
Fox’s attention to detail in writing reports and conducting interviews showed him to be an outstanding detective, but this did not save him from the endemic corruption within the NSW police force which allowed the Catholic Church to hide the crimes of its clergy for decades. Peter Fox writes about the similar ‘brotherhoods’ operating within the Church and police force and how they close ranks to protect reputations at all costs, but these costs were too high for child victims, and for Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox and his family.
The chapter on the NSW commission of inquiry into police corruption with Margaret Cunneen appointed as chief commissioner, will leave readers wondering just how deep corruption is within our justice system. The days of tortuous, seemingly aimless questioning of Fox, whose health was visibly deteriorating; a detective who was doing his job and doing it diligently, is particularly harrowing to read. The intimidation of Fox’s wife in the courtroom during his interrogation is unsettling to say the least; it was devastating for Fox who was well aware of what was happening while he was being interrogated in the dock.
When the Child Abuse Royal Commission was finally announced many had expected the then NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell would abandon the planned Cunneen NSW Police Inquiry as being a smaller inquiry covering the same matters. However, the Police Inquiry proceeded.
Around the time the Cunneen Inquiry’s report was being completed, and the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission was about to begin, George Pell was promoted to cardinal by his Church and a “discreet farewell’ for him was attended by, among other dignitaries, NSW Attorney General Greg Smith and NSW Premiere O’Farrell, who expressed the “greatest respect” for George Pell and his Church. One can only imagine how this made the victims and their families feel. And then O’Farrell made a statement that surely will go down in history as an indictment on the NSW state government which must have been well aware of the children reportedly raped by Catholic clergy at the time, and in light of Pell’s later conviction for child sexual abuse: “In Australian society the [Catholic] Church always gets priority and central position.”
In my view, after reading ‘Walking Towards Thunder’ the Cunneen Inquiry appears to have been set up solely to destroy Peter Fox, along with the rape victims’ statements he recorded and other documented evidence he had collected. Documents and statements mysteriously disappeared and police officers giving evidence at the Cunneen Inquiry claimed that those documents and statements never existed, even though victims, journalists and family members all confirmed Fox’s evidence which he gave under cross examination, which I have already noted was brutal.
These are my own assessments after reading ‘Walking Towards Thunder’ and I have no doubt that history will hold the NSW Police Inquiry up for what it was; a sham! The ABC later reported that the four-volume report, three volumes of which had been released by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC, uncovered no evidence to show that senior police ever tried to ensure child abuse offences were not properly investigated. History will not be kind to Commissioner Cunneen. We now know that Police did conceal evidence, destroyed or ‘lost’ statements by victims and witnesses, and police had evidence that the Catholic Church was intimidating witnesses and victims so they would not go to the police with their claims. These matters were all later revealed during the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission.
It seems during the time covered in Peter Fox’s book, good priests who tried to expose child sexual abuse by fellow clergy were ostracised in their parishes, honest police were leaving the police force and school principals were driven out of their jobs for trying to protect children under their care. Every one of them paid a heavy price, some tragically more than others.
This is a well written book which may have been enhanced with a reference index notating names, important events and dates to enable the reader to traverse the wealth of information contained in the book.
‘Walking Towards Thunder’ will give readers a close up look at how a hard-working, honest police officer fought the powerful Catholic Church and the NSW police force to protect victims of clergy sexual abuse from further abuse and to stop more children being abused in the future. He and his family have paid a huge price. I have no doubt he will be vindicated. It is also a must read for all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Simply by victims revealing what had happened to them, meant they were vilified by people in their own parishes for tarnishing the reputation of their beloved church. Most of the books about Catholic paedophilia I have read and reviewed, were written by victims and survivors or their families. Peter Fox’s book gives us a clear view of this Catholic scourge from a different angle, thereby revealing just how the Church hierarchy in Australia was able to coverup the rapes of hundreds of innocent children for decades.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 24 September 2019