CATHOLIC religious orders across Australia – religious women and men – are marking a national Day of Sorrow and Promise on Sunday, December 2.
The day coincides with the start of Advent and of a new Church year, and is to acknowledge survivors of abuse within the Church and all those who have been hurt by that abuse.
Underpinning this, is a clear promise for a better, safer future, according to Catholic Religious Australia president Josephite Sister Monica Cavanagh.
“Action is happening,” she said.
“The process is already under way to reform the Church’s practices to ensure that safeguarding is integral in all that we do as part of our ministry and outreach in the community. This at the heart of our mission.”
CRA is the peak body for leaders of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life with a membership of 130 congregations of sisters, brothers and priests across the country.
While safeguarding reforms are underway, Sr Cavanagh was clear that “we must continue to hold and honour those who spoke their stories to break the silence.”
In addition to apologising again for the tragedy of abuse, the purpose of the day is also to acknowledge those who work in the interests of persons harmed by abuse and those who work for the safety of the vulnerable.
The Liturgy for the national day includes a powerful audio recording from a 69-year-old male survivor, who recounts the terror of abuse suffered at the hands of a religious brother while attending a Catholic primary school.
“He was like God to me, so how could I question his actions?” the survivor said.
A few years later as an altar server, the boy was sexually abused by a parish priest – a religious.
“How could I question his authority?” the survivor said.
“I have had a very fruitful life and played major roles in the arts, in education, in politics, and was an outstanding sportsman. But five decades later, everything began to unravel – and very badly.
“Where am I at today? Well, Catholicism has been my whole life, but today I feel cut off.
“Today, I’m not just a lapsed Catholic … I feel banned, rejected, and yes, spiritually murdered. I know there are many others like me, which heightens my sadness.”
During the Day of Sorrow and Promise, CRA members will commit to the following Promise Statement:
“As Catholic Religious of Australia, we are stirred by sorrow for the failings of the past. We encounter the depth of pain endured within our midst.
We promise to listen to and support those who have been harmed by abuse,
we promise to act to prevent abuse, respond with compassion and justice and put the protection of children and the vulnerable at the heart of all our ministries.
We promise to support all those walking courageously with the abused and those working fearlessly for the prevention of abuse.
We promise to work tirelessly and humbly to build a culture in our Church which is loving and answerable to the wider community.
We promise to partner with those who have been abused, with governments, civil agencies and society at large to continue to learn and work towards a safer, more respectful and accountable Church.
We promise to be people of action, to embed prevention and safeguarding practices and governance reforms throughout our Church.
We promise to remember and to be forever changed.”