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Thursday, 10 May 2018 11:27

Thank you to Truth, Justice and Healing Commission for 'enormous contribution'

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1712RuthDurick 150On Saturday 5th May a number of leaders of Religious Congregations joined with members of the Australian Bishops Conference to thank the members of the Truth Justice and Healing Council whose work covered the 5 years of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and which was completed at the end of April.

It was my honour on behalf of Catholic Religious Australia and its members to acknowledge the achievements of the Truth Justice and Healing Council and to thank its members and staff for the superb work they have done over the past 5 years. Catholic Religious Australia has had the opportunity elsewhere to say a particular ‘thank you’ to Francis Sullivan. The acknowledgement of the TJHC , given on Saturday 5th May, appears here:

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child Sexual Abuse was announced on 12th November 2012. By 12th December 2012, ACBC and CRA had announced the creation of the TJHC to co-ordinate the Church’s response to the Royal Commission.

The key roles of the Truth Justice and Healing Council have been:

1. To represent the Church before the Royal Commission
2. To contribute to a reform agenda for the Church to ensure as far as possible that such abuse as happened in the past never happens again and that survivors of abuse within the Church are treated fairly and with compassion
3. To be the public voice of the Church in the community discourse about child sexual abuse
4. And to co-operate with the Royal Commission in its research and policy development.

Five years ago, none of us really knew where this journey would take us. It has been a difficult and challenging journey. We have been confronted with a terrible story within our midst and with many stories within that particular story which is of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Some more than others have been closely associated with the impact on victims and survivors and witnessed the deep need for healing which has only been partially addressed.

We are also now in a space where that story has challenged us, and continues to challenge us to be different, to be better, to be more committed to the gospel basis of our call as Christians, to be honest about our failings and committed to creating a better future particularly for children and the vulnerable among us.

The role of the TJHC to ‘represent the Church’ to the Royal commission was always going to be a difficult one. Contrary to what the media and other agencies would have everyone believe, the ‘Catholic Church’ is no monolith. It is impossible for many, who do not have the experience, to conceive of the Church in its diversity. This diversity is a rich gift of the spirit. It is also a significant challenge, and would have been such for the Truth Justice and Healing Council in its role of ‘representing the Church’ before the royal Commission.

With the range of people and personalities in the Council there would have been many lively discussions I imagine. For those of us who have been the recipients of your expertise and professionalism I can only say ‘thank you’ for the integrity with which you have carried forward your mandate and the consistency with which you have operated. The Council, along with the supporting Office of the TJHC, have been in many ways a major public face of the church through the time of the Royal Commission. At a time when so much trust has been lost and such depth of suffering experienced by so many at the hands of our members, the personal conviction to keep on with your task can only have been moved by deep faith and trust in God and in the creation of a different future for all of us.

As members of the Truth Justice and Healing Council you have brought a different perspective and a different experience of Church in the public arena. As people committed through baptism to the living out of your commitment in Christ you have helped shine light in dark places; you have spoken in public when the temptation would be to hide and say nothing; you have contributed openly to the research and policy development of the Royal Commission and have enabled within the church some of the difficult conversations which otherwise might not have happened.

I have been interested to read the reflections of the members of the Council. As with the members these reflections are varied; some more hopeful than others. I will just give a few snippets here:

Hopes expressed are of what might be, not what already is – so in one there is talk of a church that will be obedient to its gospel values with the imperative that we must foster a culture of safeguarding in all aspects of the life of the church and promote healing for those who have suffered deep wounds.

Another expresses the positive values which can be offered by secular organisations such as transparency, accountability and leadership at all levels but which may be dismissed precisely because they belong to the secular world.

Another member wonders, given that the Truth Justice and Healing Council was operating in defensive mode in response to the RC, what it might look like operating in a positive mode advocating for such things as better mental health care, or for those in prisons particularly Indigenous Australians.

Yet another, calls us to critique well the report of the Royal Commission. Just because it says something does not always mean it is so. We are called to not be defined by the Royal Commission – to own and learn from our past but not let it absolutely define us.

All aspects of church culture deserve the serious and respectful consideration of all of us as we continue to confront the unpalatable realisation of what has happened and the dire implications of the potential for inertia.

You have called us to continue to face this problem directly and honestly. The Church cannot undo the harm of the past but we have the responsibility to do all within our power to create an environment in which all people are treated with dignity, respect and justice.

Finally, one member stresses that the cooperation the Truth Justice and Healing Council gave to the Royal Commission was exemplary and is proof of our resolve.

We have just received the volumes which are but the written summary of five years’ work and commitment.

Thank you for your enormous contribution to this stage of the journey of the Catholic Church in Australia:

Thank you to Justice Neville Owen the Chair, Elizabeth Proust Deputy Chair, Greg Crafter, Greg Craven, Maria Harries, Marian Sullivan, Stephen Elder, Maree Marsh, Rosemary Sheehan, Mark Coleridge and Bill Wright. Thank you also to Sue Gordon and Jack Heath and the late Barry O’Keefe.

Our mission is that given us by Jesus through his call and his example.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus outlines that mission:
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me and anointed me:
The spirit has sent me to bring good news to the poor
To proclaim liberty to captives and tot eh blind new sight,
To set the downtrodden free
To proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

Your contribution calls us again to renew our passion for this mission and our commitment to the poor and vulnerable.

Thank you.