DECEMBER 7, 2017 marks a watershed day in the history of the Ballarat diocese. The release of the Royal Commission report into sexual abuse represents a milestone, years of work and decades of suffering in the making but is also an opportunity to turn the corner on its dark past.
There is no more hiding or prevarication.
The history of the decades of abuse within the Catholic Church is clear for all to see. Evidence from scores of victims, dozens of priests has been appraised by one of the nation’s highest judicial bodies and its findings are damning.
In many ways the stories of abuse and concealment, of wilful ignorance, indifference and collusion are not new but this 500 page document is a summary of that history. The names are the same, the innocent victims, the depraved perpetrators and the blindly hypocritical authorities but the lessons are new.
It finds, in both the Christian Brothers and the Ballarat Diocese, several key appalling cultural traits of secrecy, unaccountable authority and indifference to the most vulnerable. Most disgraceful of all, both to the churches lasting shame and certainly in violation of the philosophy of Christ, a belief that the reputation of the church was more important than the suffering of children.
Nor we should we forget the survivors who made this moment possible. This is also a culminating tribute to their courage in speaking to the authorities and initiating the slow process that led to this point.
The Royal Commission should not be a finger pointing exercise; making Mulkearns or O’Collins or any individual solely responsible for the atrocious period.
The opportunity offers more – the need to look deeper into the cultural conditions, structures and attitudes, unravel the thinking that could so grotesquely pervert priorities. We must ensure it is emblazoned into the safeguards which are now, increasingly, key to school and religious institutions.
Another lesson from the past – if we as a community were once all somewhat to blame for not listening, not treating it seriously enough or not having the courage to act; then we too stand indited by this suffering.
If priests claim they did not know, how many other community leaders, police officers, doctors, teachers, parishioners and parents had heard the rumours and dismissed them out of hand?
This is not collective guilt but collective responsibility to make a better future. We have crossed the line.