AUSTRALIAN Catholic Bishops Conference president Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has offered a heartfelt apology to traumatised victims of child sexual abuse and their families.
Today (August 31) as the ACBC and Catholic Religious Australia publishes a joint response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, Archbishop Coleridge says “there is no-one in the Church who hasn’t been wounded in some way by abuse”.
“When one in the community suffers, all suffer. That’s the way it is in the Body of Christ; when one part of the body is in pain, the whole body suffers,” he said.
“I think too of the many fine clergy and religious in the archdiocese who have been so mired and burdened by what has happened.”
The ACBC and CRA said today the Church would accept in principle “98 per cent” of the recommendations relating to the Catholic Church from the Royal Commission’s final report released last December.
Archbishop Coleridge said the one Royal Commission recommendation that the bishops cannot accept concerns the seal of the Sacrament of Penance, since to accept it would be “contrary to our sense of faith and would corrode religious freedom”.
“We don’t believe that abolishing the seal would make children any safer,” the Archbishop said. “Nor do we believe that the seal and the safeguarding of children are mutually exclusive; and we’ll do all we can to ensure both the safety of children and the inviolability of the seal. In our view, legislation abolishing priest-penitent privilege is based on a lack of understanding of what actually happens in Confession and moves in a purely hypothetical world.”
Archbishop Coleridge said it was difficult to see how such a law would work in practice.
“The bishops and religious leaders have the utmost respect for the rule of law; but we believe that this proposed law will prove impracticable,” he said. “It will not make children safer and it will undermine religious freedom. That’s why it’s bad public policy.”
The response of the bishops and religious leaders has been published with the four-volume final report of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.
“There are many words, and they are important; but more is required. Now is a time for action. Some of the action is already being undertaken; we aren’t beginning from scratch,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “It’s true that clergy and religious were responsible for most of the abuse in the past, and bishops and religious leaders for most of the cover-ups. Therefore they bear a special burden of responsibility.
“Currently serving bishops and religious leaders may not be personally responsible for abuse or cover-up, but they have a duty to address the crisis; and they will need to call upon all the members and resources of the Catholic community to do that effectively.”
Archbishop Coleridge called for the building of a new culture of safeguarding in the Church.
“Some of the new provisions are required by law; others are to ensure that the archdiocese is a genuinely safe place for all, but especially for the most vulnerable,” he said.
To help build a culture of safeguarding the bishops and religious leaders have established Catholic Professional Standards Limited, an independent lay body which will set nationally consistent safeguarding standards and monitor compliance with them across the Church in Australia.
“One especially important action will be provision of pastoral care to survivors of abuse, and their families,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “Now that the Church has committed to the National Redress Scheme we hope that the financial element can be dealt with elsewhere and that we can focus more on pastoral care for survivors and their families. That’s what the Church should do best.”
The response of the bishops and religious leaders was released on the eve of National Child Protection Week and Father’s Day.
“We look now to the Father of all mercies to forgive us, to heal the wounds of survivors and to lead us all into the light of Easter. May the light of the Risen Christ shine in the deep, dark places ‘until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts’ (2 Peter 1:19),” Archbishop Coleridge said in a pastoral letter sent out to all parishes in the Brisbane archdiocese.
He announced that a Jerusalem Stone and candle inside Brisbane’s St Stephen’s Cathedral will become a memorial to the suffering of all those abused and a sign of hope that there is light in the darkness. It will be moved to the nearby Chapel of St Mary MacKillop and will be a way of entrusting to her care the abused, their families and all who have suffered because of abuse in the Church.
“Mary knew the pain of victims and the strength of survivors, which is why we will entrust to her all victims and survivors,” the Archbishop said.