A stain on us all

The Tatura Guardian - - News - — Brian Spencer, Min­is­ter, Tatura Unit­ing Church

When I hear the words ‘‘sex­ual abuse’’ and ‘‘church’’ in the same sen­tence, I feel a deep sense of shame.

The Royal Com­mis­sion into In­sti­tu­tional Re­sponses to Child Sex­ual Abuse ex­am­ined a broad range of in­sti­tu­tions — from schools to Scouts, from the YMCA to sport­ing and dance clubs, from de­fence-train­ing es­tab­lish­ments to a range of out-of-home care ser­vices.

It con­sid­ered in­sti­tu­tions man­aged by fed­eral, state and ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments as well as non­govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Child sex­ual abuse has oc­curred in a broad range of in­sti­tu­tional con­texts across Aus­tralia over many decades.

How­ever, there is no es­cap­ing the fact that more al­le­ga­tions of child sex­ual abuse were made in re­la­tion to in­sti­tu­tions man­aged by re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions than any other type of or­gan­i­sa­tion.

More than 8000 sur­vivors told the com­mis­sion that they were sex­u­ally abused as chil­dren in re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions.

The abuse oc­curred in re­li­gious schools, or­phan­ages and mis­sions, churches, pres­by­ter­ies and rec­to­ries, con­fes­sion­als, and var­i­ous other set­tings.

The sex­ual abuse took many forms, in­clud­ing rape.

It was of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by phys­i­cal or emo­tional abuse.

Most vic­tims were aged be­tween 10 and 14 years when the abuse first started.

The per­pe­tra­tors in­cluded priests, re­li­gious broth­ers and sis­ters, min­is­ters, church el­ders, teach­ers in re­li­gious schools, work­ers in res­i­den­tial in­sti­tu­tions, youth group lead­ers and oth­ers.

Too of­ten when re­li­gious lead­ers knew of al­le­ga­tions of child sex­ual abuse they failed to take ef­fec­tive ac­tion.

Some ig­nored al­le­ga­tions and did not re­spond at all.

Some treated al­leged per­pe­tra­tors le­niently and failed to ad­dress the ob­vi­ous risks they posed to chil­dren.

Some con­cealed abuse and shielded per­pe­tra­tors from ac­count­abil­ity.

In­sti­tu­tional rep­u­ta­tions and in­di­vid­ual per­pe­tra­tors were pri­ori­tised over the needs of vic­tims and their fam­i­lies.

As the Prime Min­is­ter said in his na­tional apol­ogy in par­lia­ment last week, ‘‘To­day, Aus­tralia con­fronts a trauma, an abom­i­na­tion, hid­ing in plain sight for far too long.

‘‘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 for ac­tion to oc­cur? Why were other things more im­por­tant than this, the care of in­no­cent chil­dren? ‘‘Why didn’t we be­lieve? ‘‘To­day, we dare to ask th­ese ques­tions, and fi­nally ac­knowl­edge and con­front the lost screams of our chil­dren.’’

So many Chris­tian churches do so much good — nour­ish­ing the soul, com­fort­ing the sick, pro­vid­ing ser­vices, coun­selling the trou­bled, teach­ing Je­sus’ ex­am­ple, and even work­ing to fight sex­ual abuse and ha­rass­ment.

But like in any com­mu­nity of faith, there is also sin — too of­ten si­lenced, ig­nored and de­nied — and it has been much more com­mon than we have wanted to be­lieve.

It has of­ten led to fail­ures by churches to re­port sex­ual abuse, re­spond ap­pro­pri­ately to vic­tims and change the in­sti­tu­tional cul­tures that en­abled the abuse in the first place.

To be fair, it’s hard for any­one, Chris­tian or oth­er­wise, to be­lieve that some­one they know and trust is ca­pa­ble of such de­spi­ca­ble be­hav­iour.

But Chris­tians in par­tic­u­lar want to be known for their com­pas­sion and pur­suit for jus­tice.

Ig­nor­ing, blam­ing, or min­imis­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of a sur­vivor is so hyp­o­crit­i­cal. Je­sus would weep. It’s time to start be­liev­ing vic­tims and hold­ing their as­sailants ac­count­able.

Our churches and their in­sti­tu­tions must im­ple­ment strong and ef­fec­tive sys­tems to en­sure that our chil­dren and all vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple are safe.

‘‘If any­one causes one of th­ese lit­tle ones — those who be­lieve in me — to stum­ble, it would be bet­ter for them to have a large mill­stone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’’ (Matt 18:6)

This is the gospel, and we should lis­ten.

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