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04 Dec

The Catholic Church has been rocked by sexual abuse uncovered in the royal commission

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ABOUT this time four years ago, the crisis of child sexual abuse in Australia had reached boilingpoint.The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry was underway, the Special Commission for Inquiryinto the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle would shortly be announced and there wereoverwhelming calls for an Australia-wide royal commission into child sex abuse.

Much of that agitation was coming from the Hunter, and the Newcastle Herald’s roleindriving the public advocacy for a royal commission cannot be underestimated.

During this time the crimes and cover-ups within the Catholic Church in Newcastle were rightlylaid bare for all to see.

Now, after almost four years, as the royalcommission enters its final phase, it, too, is turning itsattention to what happened in the Catholic Church in the Hunter.

The damage to victims of the child abuse scandal can never be fullyexpressed or understood. Confused identities, broken homes, failed careers, unfulfilled dreams,and undermined communities.The scandal has shaken the Catholic Church across Australia to its very foundations.

In the past three and a half years I’ve had well over 100 meetings with groupsdirectly related to the work of the commission. I’ve met with survivors groups, parish groups,lawyers, and people working in education and social services. I’ve also met with priestsand volunteers who work in Catholic communities around Australia.

Significantly, most of those public meetings have been held in local parishes, organised by localCatholics. The depth to which the child sex abuse scandal has affected people coming to thesemeetings, mostly ordinary, practicing Catholics, is profound.

The anger at the Church leaders who failed toprotect children is more than evident. The demands for current Church leaders tobe fully transparent is unmistakable and the compassion for the peoplewho have sufferedis palpable.

In places like the Hunter, Ballarat, Townsville and regional Western Australia, the commissionhas exposed the abuse of power within the Catholic Church and the depravity that that unleashed.

Many people could be forgiven for thinking Catholic and other institutions have beensitting on their hands as the extent and depth of the abuse has been exposed.

At least for the Catholic Church this is not true.We’ve developed and put in place new guidelines for when victims want torevisit their claims. And there are new civil litigation guidelines that help church authoritiesidentify an entity for victims and survivors to sue.

The Church has also maintained its call for anindependent, national redress scheme, which would provide fair and just compensation for abusevictims.

We’ve also seen widespread implementation of safeguarding officers and structures withindioceses and religious orders.

While the Maitland Newcastle Dioceses has had in place for some time a groundbreakingapproach to the Church’s response to child sexual abuse, the Catholic ChurchAustralia-widewill never be able to do enough to alleviate the suffering so many have endured and continue to live with.

What I hope we are seeing at this point in the royal commission’s work is not just policyresponses to emerging issues, but the beginning of a genuine cultural shift in the Catholic Churchand other institutions that have been exposed by the work of this royal commission and themyriad other inquiries.

Francis Sullivan is the chief executive of theCatholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council

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