Warning: This piece discusses child sexual abuse survivors in light of the George Pell decision.
The Victorian Court of Appeal's decision to uphold George Pell’s historical child abuse convictions should have been the end of a long saga to hold this man to account.
Unfortunately, due to the usual suspects, Andrew Bolt and Archbishop Anthony Fisher just to name a few, the relief of many has been mitigated. We can’t do anything about these big names as media love the dissenting voice from these types, be it when it comes to supporting Pell, to climate change and more.
In recent days, there has been an increase in the #NotAllCatholics sentiment that has started to permeate social media.
This act of self-defence doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The general rule is that one doesn't need to defend themselves if they're not the one subject to public condemnation.
If I arced up every time Queenslanders were trashed due to last election results, I would have very little time to actually chat to friends.
In the case of Pell, obviously not every Catholic is the devil incarnate.
However, it needs to be said that George Pell was the highest-ranking Catholic in this nation. His conviction does mean more to many victims of child sex abuse by powerful men and organisations than his specific convictions alone.
This is the man who set up the infamous "Melbourne Response" and we will never know how many clergy members this man, over the years, refused to report to police — instead, shuffling them around the nation and overseas to avoid scrutiny.
Many have gone on to abuse further.
In light of this, it is perfectly understandable how his conviction means so much to survivors of institutional child sex abuse. If a man with this much power can be held account: anyone can.
Survivors have many reactions to this conviction from relief to anger. Many family members and friends of survivors feel guilt. Many Catholics are conflicted. For many this whole period causes past trauma to flare.
The most common response is: “We have been believed”.
Child abuse is a horrible, life-changing thing. For any child, this is an unbearable experience, as most commonly the abuser is a family member or friend. For those who were abused at the hands of clergy, one faces the disbelief of family and those in the church.
Even though the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found 4,444 victims at the hands of the Catholic Church, the number is actually much much higher.
Many victims have died over the years, many have still not come forward, not even to families or friends. Many have dealt with in their own ways, some healthy, too many destructive. None of these is included in that soul-destroying 4,444 figure.
Many of these people are on social media. They are dealing with it the best way they can. What they do not need at the moment is “but not all Catholics” yelled at them.
You don’t know who is behind that avatar or handle on likes of Twitter. You don’t know where their anger may come from. You don’t know what they are experiencing at the moment. You don’t know just how dismissive of their feelings seeing such messages or statuses.
The Catholic Church to this day still has a problem. Catholics and those that support them need to accept that.
Of course, Catholics should be able to practice their religion, but:
- If you support many Catholics organisations who have not signed up to the redress scheme yet, that is on you.
- If you support George Pell, even in light of his conviction, that is on you.
- If you support Church Leaders in defying the law of reporting child sex abusers to the police because you think the "confessional" is more sacred than the life of a child, that is on you.
- If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics, parishioners, teachers, nuns, brothers and priests who was ever approached by a child and dismissed them, that is on you.
- If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who has publicly spoken against abortion, same-sex marriage or euthanasia, but never child sex abuse in your own church, that is on you.
Catholics who have walked past allegations of abuse back in the day – for a variety of reasons – can’t change the past, but they can change the future.
If you love your church, fine, address the problems in your church. Scream for redress to be done properly, agitate for Catholic Leaders to be sacked if they won’t follow the law and report abusers to police. Find out what your particular church is doing to help survivors?
Basically, just show you care.
If such deliberate and coordinated crimes had been committed bu other entities, there's every chance they would have been shut down in disgrace by now with hundreds jailed. So it's incumbent to give survivors and their loved ones space.
If you need support after reading the above, please seek it immediately.
1800 Respect — call 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au. It offers 24/7 telephone and online crisis support, information and immediate referral to specialist counselling for anyone in Australia who has experienced or been impacted by sexual assault, or domestic or family violence.
Lifeline — call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au. It offers 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention
Some other national support available:
- Blue Knot Foundation — call 1300 657 380 or visit blueknot.org.au. It offers counselling and support for survivors
- Care Leavers Australasia Network — call 1800 008 774
@CLAN_AU. It provides support and advocacy for Care Leavers
- Child Wise — call 1800 991 099 or visit childwise.org.au. It provides trauma informed telephone and online counselling for childhood abuse.Training and organisational capacity building on child abuse prevention
- MensLine Australia — call 1300 78 99 78 or visit www.ontheline.org.au. It offers national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns
- Sexual Assault Counselling Australia — call 1800 211 028 or visit royalcommissioncounselling.org.au. It is a national telephone counselling service for people who have experienced abuse. Face-to-face counselling is available in New South Wales.
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