PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a sobering apology to the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
The leaders of Catholic Religious Australia and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have welcomed Mr Morrison’s apology and recommitted to working with the community to eliminate the scourge of child sexual abuse.
“On behalf of the Catholic bishops and religious leaders of Australia, we renew our profound and heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse and to their families, friends and supporters, who have shared their suffering,” CRA president Josephite Sister Monica Cavanagh said.
The leaders of CRA and the ACBC delivered their own apology to traumatised victims of child sexual abuse and their families on August 31.
During his address to Parliament, Mr Morrison acknowledged the horrific impact of institutional child sex abuse.
“Mr Speaker, today, as a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe and to provide justice,” he said.
“To the children we have failed, sorry.
“To the parents whose trust was betrayed, and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry. To the whistle-blowers who we did not listen to, sorry.
“To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands (and) children who have dealt with the abuse, cover-up and obstructions, sorry.
“To generations past and present, sorry.
“We love you, we hear you and we honour you.
“Today we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer: why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?
“Why was their trust betrayed? Why did those who know cover it up?
“Why were the cries of children and parents ignored? Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?
“Why has it taken so long to act? Why didn’t we believe?
“Today we dare to ask these questions, and finally acknowledge and confront the lost screams of our children.”
Mr Morrison reflected on several stories of survivors – as well as those who did not survive.
“I met with a mother whose two daughters were abused by a priest the family trusted,” he said.
“Suicide would claim one of her two beautiful girls, and the other lives under the crushing weight of what was done to her.”
Fighting back tears of his own, Mr Morrison said, “As a father of two daughters I can’t comprehend the magnitude of what she has faced.
“I am angry, too, at the calculating destruction of lives and abuse of trust, including those who have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes – a shield that is supposed to protect the innocent, not the guilty.
“And they stand condemned.”
ACBC president Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said abuse perpetrated by priests, brothers, sisters and lay people was “an utter betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it should never have happened”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also acknowledged the dead.
“Today belongs to the people who did not live long enough to hear this apology,” Mr Shorten said.
“We will remember them today, and Australia must promise to remember them always.”
Mr Shorten apologised, saying that Australia had failed tens of thousands of children across multiple generations.
“Today we offer you our nation’s apology with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now, and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future.
“We do this because it is right, because it is overdue, because Australians must know and face up to the truth about our past – but above all, we do this because of you,” the Opposition Leader said.
“The Government will now work to raise awareness of child safety and to drive cultural change in institutions in the community to ensure that systemic failures and abuses of power are not repeated,” Mr Morrison said.
“We will shine a spotlight on all parts of government.
“The institutions, which perpetrated this abuse, covered it up, and refused to be held accountable must be kept on the hook.
“We will endeavour to bring some healing to our nation and to learn from our past horrors.
“We can never promise a world where there are no abusers, but we can promise a country where we commit to hear and believe our children – to work together to keep children safe; to trust them, and most of all respect their innocence.
“I simply say I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you.”