“Now the Victorian Government has announced the establishment of a Parliamentary Inquiry into these matters. I renew the pledge that I made in my Pastoral Letter published in March 2007 that I shall do all that I can to ensure that such events will not happen again in the history of our Diocese. Over the past fourteen years, I have met with many victims and listened to their accounts of the tragic effects of the assault they have suffered. I wish to assure all people of the Diocese that the Diocese of Ballarat will cooperate fully with the Inquiry in the coming months. I ask your prayers for all who will undertake and participate in this important matter.”
Within the Catholic Church itself there have been significant calls to make the healing for victims of paramount concern. At the end of the summit in Rome in February this year on the Church’s response to sexual abuse Pope Benedict said that making the healing for victims our paramount concern “must go hand in hand with a profound renewal of the Church at every level."
In our Ballarat parishes we have a responsibility to promote a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support. In Australia since 1996 when Towards Healing was produced containing the principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against Church personnel it named the Church’s commitment to strive for seven things in particular: truth, humility, healing for the victims, assistance to other persons affected, an effective response to those who are accused, an effective response to those who are guilty of abuse and prevention of abuse. At that time also the Australian bishops and leaders of religious institutes put forward a comprehensive plan to respond to the revelations of abusive behaviour that had come to light. The elements of that plan were
o A coordinated response to the needs of victims
o A response to the needs of all other people affected by the abuse
o A study of factors specific to the Catholic Church that might contribute to abuse
o An assessment of the criteria for the selection and formation of candidates and of the lifestyle of clergy and religious
o A study of the ways in which power and authority are held and exercised in the Church
o A document of principles and standards for clergy and religious – this document is called Integrity in Ministry which seeks to enable the relationships of clergy and religious with the people we minister to be healthy, life-giving and God centred. The goal of Integrity in Ministry is the need to protect against harm and more positively to provide positive guidelines for both healthy lives among clergy and religious and for the highest standards of pastoral practice.
While some have become defensive blaming the media and the Church's opponents for the escalation of the scandal Pope Benedict made clear its origin came from within the Church itself, and said forgiveness "does not replace justice".
In 2010 he said that “the greatest persecution of the Church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside but is born from sins within the Church. The Church has a deep need to relearn penitence, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity for justice.” Within our Church culture we hope that such an inquiry can expose all that is systemically unhealthy and harmful. A reimagining of the exercising of legitimate authority in the name of Christ and leadership within the Church that is characterised by Gospel humility and service, collaboration and prayer is called for.