Something all of us in the community are aware of is the well-known and shameful criminal history of child sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel in our own diocese. It is within the realms of possibility, in our sprawling, but strangely intimate region, that most of us know someone who was abused by a member of the Catholic Church or at least know someone in their extended family or a friend. You may not realise that you know a victim, but in all likelihood you do. There is no doubt that this heinous abuse and its cover-up has had a calamitous effect on our whole community.
Lina, a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of a member of clergy in our diocese, has suffered tremendously as a result of her abuse. The dire effects have for Lina, as with all victims, been lifelong.
Although Lina has been in contact with Zimmerman Services’ Healing and Support Unit for many years, I only met Lina in June. I already consider her one of the bravest people I have ever met. She would, no doubt, dispute this, considering she once told me that she “needs tablets to get myself to the supermarket, church and appointments and even then I am paralysed by panic”. But bravery takes many forms. Despite feeling “trapped inside myself”, Lina has been able to conceive an event of atonement that is being facilitated, on her behalf and in consultation with others affected by abuse, by the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Known as The Atonement: Lina’s Project, this community event is open to all to attend at Newcastle City Hall on Friday 15 September from 5.30pm-7.30pm.
It is completely understandable that many people feel distrust of, or hatred for, the Catholic Church. For Lina though, it’s hate that “dissolves society” and she wants the event to enable our community to come together in a genuine atmosphere of healing. In order to facilitate this, The Atonement: Lina’s Project launch event will see the Catholic Diocese publicly acknowledge the devastation caused to victims of abuse, their families, friends and the whole community, as well as naming both the perpetrators of the abuse and those who concealed their crimes. It is Lina’s hope that by openly laying itself bare in this way, the community will see that the Catholic Church in our region is “one full of sorrow and remorse, humbly asking for reconciliation”.
So why should you attend?
Because we are connected - our whole community has been affected by these crimes. Because bearing witness to victims’ ongoing suffering will send a strong statement to them that we, as a community, believe them, stand with them and want to be part of Lina’s brave hope for healing.
Every member of our community is invited to attend the launch event on 15 September.