Community comes together for Lina's project

In September the launch event for The Atonement: Lina’s Project took place at Newcastle City Hall. It was arguably the first time a Catholic diocese had facilitated a project conceived by a victim of child sexual abuse.

Lina, who was abused by a member of clergy in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, devised The Atonement: Lina’s Project as a way of rebuilding her own trust in “my Church” and bringing some healing to the “average, ordinary human beings” whose skin had been “burnt, scorched and blistered” by the actions and inactions of the church.

Lina hoped that by admitting its criminal history and cover-ups at the launch event and then projecting images onto the façade of Sacred Heart Cathedral, the diocese might take a step towards atonement with the community.

The audio-visual presentation has been viewed over 1,600 times, so clearly, people are engaging with Lina’s message. You can watch it on the Lina’s Project website, The projection onto the cathedral also saw a significant number of people watching each evening.

Around 500 people attended on Friday 15 September. Victims, survivors, families and friends, clergy, religious, principals, teachers, diocesan staff and many others sat together. The mood was, as Pat Feenan described, “quiet, respectful and sad, which was exactly as it should be”.

ABC presenter, Juanita Phillips, welcomed all and explained how Lina’s Project came to be.

A 16-minute presentation was shown. The focus was the naming of perpetrators of abuse, as well as those who concealed their crimes, but Lina’s voice and words anchored the film and along with statements from other victims and survivors who lent their voices gave the presentation its compass.

The silence during the presentation was moving. One person described the event as “beautifully sensitive and heartbreakingly truthful”.

People were invited to attach a piece of ‘shell’ to an ‘egg’ on the stage. This ritual linked to the symbol of the King penguin and egg, devised by Lina and used to promote the event.

Once pieces were attached to the egg it was clear the shell was replaced, but still broken. We can come together and support each other, but must always remain aware of the brokenness of those affected by abuse.

As so many took part in this ritual, it was clear Lina’s Project had struck a chord.  

Guests then shared refreshments and conversation, many acknowledging Lina’s bravery in conceiving the event. One wrote, “Thank you Lina for calling our diocese to a deeper sorrow and determination to help in the healing of all our community.” Chairman, Clergy Abused Network, Bob O’Toole, described the presentation as “difficult to watch but very necessary if healing is to occur”. Deputy NSW Ombudsman and Community and Disability Services Commissioner, Steve Kinmond, and Assistant Ombudsman, Julianna Demetrius, said Lina’s Project was “a wonderful example for the nation”.

Lina’s Project brought some measure of vindication for people who have longed for the diocese to acknowledge its criminal history and cover-ups. There were brave and understandably wary and sceptical people in that hall (and watching online). The fact that they put themselves in that vulnerable space spoke volumes about the human heart’s ability to hope; to believe that maybe this time something positive would happen. There was also great community support; one that has been impacted immeasurably by the “obscenities”, as Lina referred to them, revealed in the Special and Royal Commissions. Apologies have been made, but as Bishop Bill acknowledged, “a formal apology can never really be adequate…but it still needs to be said over and over”. The diocese can beg for forgiveness, but its actions moving forward will reveal the genuineness of its intent.

Bishop Bill committed the diocese to hosting regional Lina’s Project events and consulting with survivors and the community to plan a permanent memorial in the grounds of Sacred Heart Cathedral. From 2018, 15 September will be a perpetual day of remembrance and the diocese will also be working with schools, particularly sites of abuse, to plan events of acknowledgement. There is a form available on the Lina’s Project website and everyone is invited to share suggestions for events and projects that may help individuals and the community find a measure of healing. These ideas will be published on the Lina’s Project website early in 2018. Listening and collaborating will be the key to bringing atonement.

Without Lina, none of this would have been possible. Lina’s being brave enough to trust the diocese to facilitate her ideas allowed the diocese to take a step in the right direction.

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Joanne Isaac Image
Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.