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. Many of us will have also crossed paths at some point in our lives with one or more of the perpetrators. 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.
Lina hopes that the event, and the audio-visual display that is a key part, will bring some healing to our broken community.
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”.
“I feel that the diocese needs to apologise and ask forgiveness for the harm suffered through abuse, but also through the cover-up of that abuse. The diocese needs to ask forgiveness of the people of the entire diocese – not only the Catholic community, but the whole community in general,” said Lina.
The symbol of a King penguin and an egg has been chosen to promote the event and will play an important role in the culmination of the audio-visual presentation. King penguins work together as a community to support each other and nurture their eggs, which represent new life. Lina’s Project hopes to encourage solidarity and moving forward with hope. For Lina, who chose this motif, the Penguin and the egg represent a great deal.
“When I think of pastoral care, I am reminded of the duty of care necessary for new life to grow in safety and love. Around the world, the egg is a sign of new life. I want this project to acknowledge the devastation and promote healing throughout our community,” said Lina.
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.
And, for those who want to look at it in Gospel terms, because caring for those who have been harmed and seeking repentance is exactly what Christ would want us to do.
The Lina I have come to know is witty, caring and incredibly smart. She is an artist of immense talent, a photographer, a writer, a teacher, a mother and grandmother, a lover of nature and animals. I stand in awe of her understanding of technology. I love to talk and laugh with her. But of course, she is also damaged and fragile and in her words, “dangles on the rim of sanity”. Lina told me that “part of my abuse legacy is an enormous trust issue” and yet she has taken a courageous leap of faith in trusting the diocese to facilitate her vision for healing. She has put her own name to it. This is the very definition of bravery.
Every member of our community is invited to attend the launch event on 15 September.