A Salvation Army officer accused of physically and sexually abusing dozens of young boys at a boys' home in south Sydney was given the army's silver star award at a function late last year, despite the allegations against him.
The organisation later celebrated the award in the January edition of its national magazine, on the eve of royal commission hearings that were told details of the horrific acts of abuse he and his colleagues allegedly had perpetrated. Major John McIver was awarded the silver star on December 1 by Commissioner Jan Condon in recognition of the fact that his two sons had become commissioned officers. All parents of officers in the Salvos are given the award, which ''recognises the influence of parents, and significant family and friends, on the lives of their officer children''.
Major McIver's award was then given special mention in the army's Pipeline magazine, which published a picture of him and his wife receiving the award and noting that the head of the army's eastern territory, Commissioner Condon, had attended the ceremony. The picture story was later quietly removed from the Salvation Army's website.
''It is incomprehensible to me how they could give someone an award who they knew had so many allegations of cruel and brutal treatment of children against him,'' the executive officer of abuse survivors group Care Leavers Australia Network, Leonie Sheedy, said.
The royal commission's recent public hearings into Salvation Army homes in NSW and Queensland heard that Major McIver was one of five officers who engaged in horrific physical and sexual abuse of boys in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Retired army officer and whistleblower Major Cliff Randall, told the hearing that Major McIver regularly whipped boys at the boys' home in Bexley, including flicking their testicles with a belt.
He recalled Major McIver going ''wild'' on one occasion when a boy offered token resistance to being whipped in this way. ''He went ballistic. He grabbed [the boy], threw him up against the wall, bruised all his face, dislocated his shoulder. That's when I stepped in,'' he said.
Major McIver allegedly refused to give the boy proper medical treatment, and instead placed a tennis ball under his armpit to ''pop the shoulder back in''.
It was revealed at the commission that, despite this alleged abuse, Major McIver was still a Salvation Army officer. The organisation eventually suspended him on January 30.
''The Salvation Army does acknowledge that celebrating the silver star presentation publicly through Pipeline was insensitive and could be insulting to victims of child sexual abuse,'' a spokesman said. ''Major McIver was the focus of a confidential, internal investigation and the editorial team were rightly not aware of the investigation. It was not our intention to cause further distress.''
However, he defended the decision to give Major McIver the award. ''The silver star is not a service-recognition award. It is simply an acknowledgement of parents of new officers.''
Ms Sheedy said granting the award showed the organisation ''still doesn't understand the long-term affects of sexual abuse on survivors''.
Paul Bibby’s article Salvation Army draws ire over award to accused child abuser (Sydney Morning Herald-17/2/14) surely raises a big question mark over the ‘fitness’ of the Salvation Army to be a provider of services to any vulnerable persons today.
How could it be that Major John McIver – guilty of horrendous acts of physical and sexual abuse of boys over decades – how could the Salvos be so insensitive and deceitful as to – even now – be acknowledging or promoting him in any way? McIver stole the lives of many boys, and the trauma of their abuse by him and other Salvation Army officers has cruelly affected them every day of their lives since then. McIver was – IS – a monster! Yet he was being celebrated at an event in December 2013 attended and spoken at by Salvation Army Commissioner James Condon (who cried at the Royal Commission when shamefully acknowledging the truth of the Army’s abuse of children in their care just the other week), and then with a proud photo in the Salvation Army press just last month!!
CLAN Executive Officer, Ms Leonie Sheedy said, “Our members are truly sickened by the continuing insensitivity and lack of moral judgement shown by the Salvation Army leadership. How can they be trusted and funded by governments to run services for vulnerable children and the elderly, when, out of the public glare, they can just seemingly forget the truth and celebrate their own – no matter how appallingly and criminally they have acted? And maybe the Salvation Army – and the Police, for that matter – can explain to the many struggling, care leaver abuse victims, why persons like McIver continue to be celebrated, rather than rotting in a gaol?
Ms Sheedy concluded, “This is an appalling revelation. We at CLAN loudly urge any government or department funding the Salvation Army to deliver services to vulnerable populations to immediately review and/or suspend these contracts until they can be 100% satisfied that there is no danger of any further abuse being committed at Salvation Army run services.”
Leonie Sheedy – Executive Officer of CLAN