Lay lead the way in child abuse lament

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A small group of lay Christians in Perth, including myself, were so worried that our institutions might not wholeheartedly embrace the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse that we decided not to wait to find out.

Participants are prepared and purified at Day of Lament. Photograph by Doug MilesOn Saturday 9 December, ahead of the full release of the commission's findings, 130 people accepted our invitation to gather on the banks of the Swan River to express our gratitude to the commissioners, survivors and their families.

Day of Lament was an ecumenical picnic and liturgy organised without any clerical input by lay people of different church backgrounds, including Catholic, Anglican and Uniting, the Salvation Army and an Independent Community Church. Our group comprised teachers, a pastoral practitioner, psychologist and community worker. We sought input and feedback from survivors and organisations representing survivors.

Planned over several months, Day of Lament grew out of a determination to express unequivocal support for authentic justice for survivors, at whatever cost. Lay people might not hold the purse strings of our churches but we are the living hands and feet that comprise it. Through our physical presence in a public space we aimed to make a stand that was five-fold: to lament the silence surrounding child abuse in our institutions, acknowledge the pain suffered, say sorry, pray for healing, and commit to justice.

We accepted that we could not hope to grasp the full complexity of the impacts of child sexual abuse on everyone affected by it, and therefore we made no claims to represent anyone other than ourselves. But our invitation was open to people of the same, different or no faith backgrounds: If you felt as we did, you were welcome to join us.

Local Nyungar and Yued Elder Ben Taylor Cuiermara welcomed us to the riverside and he and other Indigenous leaders led us through a smoking ceremony to purify and ready us for our task. Musicians on keyboard and cello drew us into a prayerful space, and acclaimed singer, songwriter and guitarist Rose Parker transported us in song.

Parker is also an ambassador to the Blue Knot Foundation which works to improve the lives of the five million Australian adults who are survivors of childhood trauma, including abuse. Day of Lament was proud to support this work, and that of Broken Rites Australia, who conduct research and provide advocacy for survivors of church abuse.

 

"Those of us on the banks of the river that day weren't prepared to allow the hierarchy to have the first, let alone final, word."

 

We concluded the gathering with a monetary collection for these organisations as both practical and immediate action, and symbolic message to our institutions that we must, and want to, pay. As Mark, one of the organisers said before passing around the buckets: 'By committing to justice we commit to following these stories with the knowledge that the breadth and depth of these painful experiences could not have been caused by a single hierarchy, individual or culture, and that therefore any response must come from all people of faith: laity as well as clergy.'

Following Friday's release of the Commission's final report, the Australian writer Tom Keneally asked if the Church leaders 'really get it … Will the hierarchy acknowledge these facts, in humility and penitence?'. Journalist and commentator David Marr isn't hopeful it will, given the grip Rome — 'an old, shrewd and complicated institution that has never quite abandoned its role as a world power' — holds over every aspect of the Australian church.

Those of us on the banks of the river that day weren't prepared to allow the hierarchy to have the first, let alone final, word. What couldn't have been clearer to us looking out over the gathered is that we were the church. There, together in the open air, on that luscious grass, under a life-giving sun.

As much as the hierarchy, the laity have to face up to the truth of our failings to protect children. We do not have to wait for direction to do what is right.

 

 

Helena KadmosHelena Kadmos is a teacher, academic and writer living in Perth, WA. She writes short stories and creative non-fiction and lectures in literature and creative writing. Through experiences in the Catholic and Anglican churches she is passionate about the potential of small scale faith communities to be positive forces for change.

Main image: Participants are prepared and purified at Day of Lament. Photograph by Doug Miles

Topic tags: Helena Kadmos, Royal Commission, clergy sexual abuse

 

 

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Great to see this action by lay people in Perth. Thanks for sharing the story. Excellent last paragraph.
Anne Elvey | 19 December 2017


an excellent piece of work
nick agocs | 19 December 2017


I wish I'd been there. Change is afoot and the Catholic hierarchy know it. Wheels are turning. Can you hear them creak? Slowly, ever so slowly!
Patricia Taylor | 19 December 2017


Hart -Inviolable seal of confession. Congratulations and THANKYOU to all who are trying to get on the front foot with the royal commission findings. Including many priests and religious. We also need to believe that this continues to occur in our society and be so vigilant and on the lookout for the signs of abuse. It's also crucial that it is acknowledged that a large portion of these abuses occurred in Catholic Church and institutions. Unfortunately Bishop Hart's response was neither inspiring nor reassuring. Didn't come across as humble or penitent. Sorry I just can't characterise this or previous responses as such. If breaking the 'seal' of confession leads to excommunication so be it. It's about time the clergy stood up for the people and dare I say it, Jesus. If being excommunicated saves one child, wife, son or man from illegal and indefensible behaviours then so be it. You aren't being nailed to a cross. Where's your courage to stand up TO the system. Priests need to strike until change occurs. As for celibacy; the shame and pity of that law/doctrine is that so many good pastors have left the priesthood. Humble thankyou to all who spoke their stories. Peace be with you.
Colleen | 19 December 2017


Good to see ordinary Christians standing up for CSA victims and for future of the Church. Many priests are too close to historical clericalism on such matters & just don't see the real ongoing pain of victims decades later. Then also, many priests have closed off and are burnt out - some even secretly side with George Pell or Phillip Wilson in protecting the name of the Church. Time for a new wineskin for a new vintage named "Victim Justice"
John Cronin | 19 December 2017


Even before the Royal Commission released its Report on 16 December, several prominent people have asserted in media that church leaders "just don't get it". As another sign of the times, the theme of the 21st Annual Yarramundi Lecture held on 6 December 2017 at Western Sydney University asked , "Do you get the message? - that tells of the theft of this land from its peoples, and the subsequent abuses that remain even till today" Maybe this is the question at Christmas that addresses us all on several fronts, asking if we get the message that refers to the detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, childhood abuse and domestic violence, homelessness, and unjust working conditions. "Do you get the message?" addressed to both leaders and the public at large is not just a rhetorical question. A postal survey showed Australians that most of us "got it" and believed that it is time to change marriage legislation to make room for equality. Can we show each other and leaders in all institutions that we get the message about institutional violence toward children and practices of covering up? If we get these messages, then let us show it.
Alex Nelson | 19 December 2017


Thanks Helena for sharing this story and for your action. Thanks too, Alex, for your challenge.
Anne Benjamin | 19 December 2017


Spot on, Helen. I sometimes find myself hoping the hierarchy is finally going to commit itself to change. What rubbish. They can't. But we can, and we must. We are the Church, it's time to act like it.
Joan Seymour | 19 December 2017


Seems like no one has read what the Bishops conference stated as well as Francis Sullivan . Read what they actually said and become better informed.
Paul Jones | 19 December 2017


I have been involved in the Church , as a teacher for 30+ years as well as an Acolyte for the last 28 years and a stint as a Pastoral Associate . Due to family circumstances my brother and I were sent to boarding school , first with the Sisters of Mercy and later the Marist Brothers. I witnessed cruelty in both environments but as the attitude of the time was "you must have deserved it", we learnt to shut up and accept. During my time in the classroom corporal punishment was abolished. However many of the teachers I worked with were former Brothers/Nuns and the change was difficult for them to accept. Even at secondary college rumours went around that certain Brothers were 'playing around'. I was aware of three myself, although I was not abused. I have been mortified to learn that three Christian Brothers and one former Brother and a lay member of staff at the school I taught in for over 20 years were child sexual abusers . I had absolutely NO idea! Sadly from my experience with the church hierarchy over the past 60 years or so does not fill me with any hope that things will change . In my humble opinion any Bishop or Archbishop who was covering up for these people, should be removed from their position and charged .We need a complete change in Church governance. Any clergy convicted should be 'defrocked' as soon as they are found guilty. Lastly I disagree with the breaking of the "Seal of Confession" as on the evidence I have read no pedophile would confess such a 'sin' anyway to a priest. They would have somehow rationalised what they were doing was not a sin!
Gavin | 19 December 2017


I'm afraid the only way you will ever get the church to listen and change is to stop putting money on the plate every Sunday at mass. Cut off their funds and they may do something. As we have seen the Melbourne Response was primarily set up in an effort to save the church large payouts. One of the most powerful, influential and wealthiest institutions in the world that has not cared as they should have for the survivors of sexual abuse. Nothing has changed apart from people being more aware and able to call them out. In many cases they are still being obstructionist. Canon law should be changed in an effort to prevent the further rape of children. When will they learn?
Danielle McDermott | 19 December 2017


Good on you, people of Perth, for taking a stand. We cannot allow this issue to get 'swept under the carpet' - again.
Elizabeth Murray | 20 December 2017


Thank you Helena for sharing the story. It is fantastic to know that there are others out there who realise that the laity in the various denominations will have to be the drivers of the appropriate change in the churches. As a Roman Catholic, I am not convinced that the hierarchy and clergy will drive the necessary change. Yes, apologies have been made, and we have seen the beginnings of appropriate safeguards and standards being put into place. However, this is only the beginning. What is needed throughout the RC Church in Australia, is a total change to the governance of the Church. It can no longer be a top-down model. Hierarchy and clergy are too hard-wired into this model to actually make the change. Until we have a genuine synodical model made up of laity, clergy and hierarchy, whereby there is a diocesan synod set up in every diocese occurring say, every three years with no restrictions on topics and concerns, there will be no change. Add to this a General synod with all dioceses having input also on a three-yearly cycle for example. Otherwise, we will continue to stagnate. Vatican II gave us this in its document Lumen Gentium over 50 years ago! As far as I am aware, no diocese has done this. Add to that, our parish system must change such that a parish council consisting of the appropriately skilled persons is elected by regular parishioners periodically to ensure that the parish is run successfully, including on-going intelligent adult faith education. The parish council will have a say in the appointment of the appropriate priest as parish priest. This would apply to parishes with diocesan priests, as well as those parishes of a diocese staffed by religious orders. No exceptions. I suggest that this system needs to be in place sooner than later as we do not have another 50 years to get it right. There will be no need to worry about the shortage of priests as there will be few parishes left! One would hope that this is on the agenda for the 2020 Synod. But even that may be too late.
Thomas Amory | 20 December 2017


Thank you Helena and the team of Lay Christian leaders for organising this simple, yet powerful healing journey in being in solidarity with the victims of abuse. 'The People of God' united can achieve great miracles in our churches and community. Too often we wait for permission to act, yet we forget we are all called to Holiness in our every daily lives . May I also be in Solidarity with the majority of priests and religious in the current anti-Christian environment who have served us, mentored us ,loved and walked with us. And are loyal in living the Gospel values-the dignity of every person- justice- reconciliation-humility. May there be many more opportunities to meet humbly in country, in prayer, in community to say SORRY and plan liberating actions for the victims and their families Together and united we are the' Church', and we choose to be part of the truth however painful ,to solutions and healing. As we are a people of HOPE!
Guido Vogels | 20 December 2017


Helena Kadmos AND Archbishop Hart need look no further than the ways in which the Church is administered, to assess its flaws. When I taught in Perth, I noted within a staff of ten at the Catholic Education Office, eight officers related by marriage or blood-ties to one another. This greatly hindered their modus operandi, especially with systemic schools, which operated as fiefdoms, at that stage many of them transitioning from congregational ownership to the lay leadership of former religious. I researched two Politics theses about it and left to take up a position at an interstate Catholic Education Office (in Justice & Peace!) and where Catholic schools became low-fee alternatives to state and private schools. In semi-retirement I taught in another diocese where a gay child was so blatantly persecuted that he suicided. The solution is to public-sector-integrate Catholic systemic schools as in New Zealand and to defund the rest in order to ensure accountability, due process and Catholic access to them.
Dr Michael Furtado | 20 December 2017


Australian lay Catholics need to do all they can to make sure the 2020 Plenary Council is a success. Archbishop Mark Coleridge has already said that it won't be business as usual after this. Let us support him in this!
Grant Allen | 20 December 2017


Yes, the Day of Lament was a beautiful, powerfully moving event - thanks to all the organisers. And I do believe in the power of change - and 'ordinary' people can bring it on. On the subject of the Commission's Report, I am perplexed on two points highlighted in the press and media. I agree with Gavin on his comments re the need to break the Seal of Confession. Whilst no longer a practising Catholic, I do not think this is an answer and such would have a big effect on millions of lay Catholics. However, my main concern is the recommendation that the Church abandon celibacy. I do believe that celibacy should be voluntary. However, celibacy is not a determining factor in the evil mindset of predators. Most of the predators all over the world are not celibate. I am quite confused that the Commissioners, whom I would presume are well educated and knowledgeable, would think it was It reminds me of past accusations - from the media and 'loud uninformed voices' - that all paedophiles were homosexual. Paedophilia, from my understanding, is an evil, sick mental condition ... not caused by forced celibacy. Still lots of work to be done by the 'ordinary' people.
Elizabeth B | 20 December 2017


A further comment- many RCs are very uneducated on CSA in their Church.... and sadly so are many older priests, bishops and cardinals. The laypeople must lead on justice for CSA victims - or we go backwards. It seems many RCs and people of other faiths get 99% of their CSA information from TV news and current affairs shows on TV. No wonder the responses by the Churches are still so woeful. Wake up, Australia.
John cronin | 20 December 2017


Elizabeth B. You raise a very good point regarding the Commission’s recommendation regarding celibacy, and as you say, it has nothing to do with paedophilia. We know that child sexual abuse occurs in families by men who are married with children of their own, sometimes abusing their own children or those outside the family. I too am baffled by this recommendation. Having read so much as we all have from the Commission, I think what some in the Catholic Church are saying is that what is needed is a balanced priesthood of voluntary celibate men and married men with wives and family. The thinking is that this would somehow break up the ‘boys club’ protective mentality and cause a less exalted rank within the Church. So if that’s what the Commission means it has not enunciated it very well at all. As a practising Catholic, I have long been an advocate for the ordination of women deacons, priests and bishops which is possible. There is no theological bar to this regardless of what the RC Church would have us believe. This would also assist in balancing up the stifling men’s domain in the RC Church in the same way as our brothers and sisters in the Anglican and some other denominations (though not all). All that said, I think most Catholics would welcome married clergy and families if they so wish, but this is separate to anything to do with paedophilia and child sexual abuse. But all of this comes back to the Church’s painful hang-up and inability to get its head around human sexuality and gender equality and to revisit the theology of this and sort it out.
Thomas Amory | 20 December 2017


OK Paul, I'll read yours if you'll read mine. Here is a link to the Royal Commission's final report < http://apo.org.au/node/123921 >. I commend it to you. Now, will you give me a link to what the bishops' conference said, please?
Ginger Meggs | 21 December 2017


Elizabeth B, if you would like to understand the reasoning behind the Commission's recommendations about celibacy, may I suggest that you read its report. You will find a link to it at < http://apo.org.au/node/123921 >
Ginger Meggs | 21 December 2017


I remember the recently deceased Cardinal Law, formerly Archbishop of Boston, was forced to resign from his position because of public outcry due to his cover up of sexual crimes against children. This included a letter to him signed by 58 priests in his archdiocese. The 'Boston Globe's' coverage of the whole sorry saga was probably the beginning of the end for Law. I suspect that, after this Royal Commission, there will be clerical authorities forced to resign or facing serious criminal charges over concealment. This is already happening. The wind has changed. Autocratic, non-responsible rule by supposed 'Princes of the Church' is over. I doubt the Roman Catholic, Anglican or most Churches will ever be 'democratic' but they will need to be responsive and comply with the law. The only senior cleric in this country I know who has really done something wide ranging about the recent child sex abuse nightmare is Archbishop Philip Aspinall of the Anglican Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Edward Fido | 21 December 2017


Survivors and Friends WA. It is important to also note that although the Day of Lament event was well attended that some conflicts of interest were apparent in regards the organisation of this event. Given that the response was overwhelmingly positive by those that attended these conflicts of interest and sometimes difficult wording of the liturgy are less important than that the event went relatively well. The organisers although heavily invested in the outcome seemed genuine even with the conflicts of interest. Survivors and Friends did attempt at one stage to discuss the issues with the DoL committee but the communications were difficult due to the Conflicts of Interest and Security concerns. . Luckily no Security issues transpired on the day. It is hoped that in future such events are planned and organised with far more Survivor consultation. With 2018 going to be a very hard year with Survivor advocates calling for the Royal Commission recommendations to be adopted in full by all institutions as well as calling to account the complicit leadership it is heartening to see the Laity of Institutions apologise for their own silence and potential complicity in the silencing of victims. It is also heartening to see Eureka Street begin the difficult process of coming to terms with the Jesuits own history of abuse as referred to in the Royal Commission. The next year will also be a very difficult year and I hope that events such as day of Lament and the Jesuits and Eureka Streets own coverage of the issue of Abuse within institutions continues. For victims talking truth to power requires the support compassion and care of all " the people of god".
Richie | 21 December 2017


Helena, good for you. I totally believe that this is the only way things will change...when the change starts with those who work and live at ground level, who don;t have secrets and histories to protect, who don't have vested interests in keeping the status quo. Well done. Hope the 'movement' continues and spreads.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 27 December 2017


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