Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
We have all been shocked and appalled by revelations over the last week to the Royal Commission Inquiry into the responses of Australian institutions to child sex abuse. We have heard the horrific stories of historic crimes committed by a number of Christian Brothers against wards of the State in their care.
In this context, I thought I should remind people of a number of basic points I have been making periodically in pastoral statements and the Grapevine articles over the past twelve years.
First, we must do all that we can to support victims of child sexual abuse, including those who have been abused by priests, religious and laity in the Church. My first encounters with victims of abuse through the Church’s work in New York was a searing experience. These young people had been abused in their families and various institutions.
The effects of sexual abuse are profound to the extent that I am not at all sure that one victim can appreciate fully the deep suffering of another. If we know of any victim, let us give them all the love and support and patient understanding that we can.
We need to be mindful too that victims of child sexual abuse will be suffering again while the Royal Commission continues its necessary work. The constant media reporting of victims stories commonly causes other victims to relive again what has happened to them.
Second, we must provide whatever support that we can for victims to report crimes against them to the police. The emphasis here needs to be support, not well meaning or subtle pressure.
Reporting experiences of sexual abuse can be deeply traumatic and victims have to be allowed to do so when they feel ready. In the meantime, they will need our support and understanding.
Third, we should encourage victims of sexual abuse by Catholic Church personnel to seek help with their healing through the Church’s Towards Healing programme. They will be welcomed with understanding by the Director for Professional Standards, who is responsible for this process. The Director can be contacted by telephone on 08 9422 7904 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Church’s Towards Healing programme has helped many victims on the journey towards healing.
Fourth, the Royal Commission in early hearings has heard of examples of Bishops and religious superiors, moving priests and religious who offended against children to other places. The Catholic Church addressed this problem in 1996 through protocols to prevent this happening again.
Fifth, like other Australian dioceses, the Bunbury Diocese is absolutely committed to doing everything humanly possible to ensure the protection of children and young people from any possible harm in our parishes and schools. I would encourage parishioners to read the various Australian Catholic Church documents related to this and the support of victims on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference website – www.catholic.org.au
Finally, although the Christian Brothers are an autonomous religious congregation within the Church, we all feel the shame and embarrassment resulting from last week’s Royal Commission hearings. We all know too that a few priests in this Diocese offended against children in the past. As a Church leader, I apologise to all who have suffered sexual abuse by any priest, religious or lay employee or worker within the Church.
Currently we are hearing stories of institutional victims at the Royal Commission. However, the range of sufferings we have heard are not limited to institutional victims: I know from my own past pastoral experience that these sufferings also apply to the vastly greater number of victims who have been abused outside institutional settings – victims whose stories cannot be heard by the Royal Commission.
Please pray earnestly for all victims of sexual abuse, especially those abused within the Church. Let us pray too for both the members and staff of the Royal Commission. They will be suffering as they hear the many horrific stories of victims. Let us pray that they will make wise and just recommendations.
Finally, let us support each other as we try to cope with what we are hearing from Royal Commission hearings. Let us share with each other our bewilderment, anger and other feelings – and support our priests whose feelings are no less intense than those of other Catholics.
Most Rev Gerard Holohan
Bishop of Bunbury
1 May 2014