Responding to Sexual Abuse

Recently I met with a lady who, as a child, was abused by one of our Tasmanian priests, Paul Connolly. When this abuse was reported he was immediately stood down from public ministry as a priest.

He was charged by the police, convicted and spent time in jail for this abuse. Following his release he lived privately until his death in 2014.

Paul Connolly’s actions brought shame to the Catholic Church in Tasmania, but more importantly his abuse of this girl brought with it ongoing pain and devastation to the rest of this lady’s life.

I encountered this in my meeting with her. Indeed, the abuse not only seriously damaged her but also flowed out to her family members, close friends and the wider community who were betrayed, in this instance, by a priest in whom great trust was placed.

For a survivor of sexual abuse, the rebuilding of their life is a monumental task. The deep and lasting hurt makes it impossible for many. They carry deep scars from their experience for the rest of their life.

As Archbishop this recent meeting provided the opportunity for me to apologise for the grave damage caused by the sexual abuse by one of our priests. I was distressed by what this lady and her family have lived with for decades.

The Church in Australia became conscious of this dark side of its life back in the 1990s and sought to address the need for a path for those abused to be recognised and assisted. The process that was developed was called “Towards Healing”.

The five year long Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse shone a light on the shortcomings of institutions in responding to the needs of victims.

One outcome of this was the establishment of a National Redress Scheme which allowed those sexually abused to seek financial redress, be provided with an apology if requested, and receive counselling if they sought it. Every Catholic diocese and religious order in Australia signed up to the scheme. 

The Church has also responded to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and initiated a raft of policies and protocols for all Church personnel around professional standards and safeguarding.

In the Archdiocese under the name of “Safe Communities” an office has been established to assist clergy, parish personnel and staff within our institutions to understand and live by nationally recognised standards of professional behaviour. There is an ongoing process of audit to ensure that these standards are adhered to.

It has been the lived experience of those who have been abused, like that of the lady I met with recently, that has stirred the Church do all it can not only to assist those who have suffered abuse but to establish policies and protocols to ensure that such abuse does not happen again.

Tags: Archbishop's Blog