Next Steps: A Diocesan Memorial for those affected by child abuse

On the evening of 27 March 2019, a memorial was dedicated to the survivors, victims and families of historical institutional child sexual abuse perpetrated at Marist Brothers High School Hamilton. The memorial’s context is unique - the particular institution to which it relates is no longer in existence, albeit that some of the physical structures remain.  The Marist Brothers are a religious order whose presence in the region has almost passed but whose historic presence is an intrinsic part of Diocesan history, for good and ill. 

The memorial was conceptualised and developed in a collaborative, consultative process between the Clergy Abused Network (C.A.N), Marist Brothers Province of Australia and the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. 

Whilst often challenging and fraught with the potential to cause unintended offence, I was fortunate to work with an extraordinary and dedicated group of people, drawn together by a shared purpose.  Nevertheless, the odds against the memorial being built and accepted as well and as widely as it appears to have been, were significant.  Without taking anything away from those who undertook such great work, I believe we were party to a moment of grace.

Now that the Marist Memorial has been dedicated, it is time to look to fulfilling Bishop Bill’s commitment that was made as part of The Atonement: Lina’s Project in 2017:

The Project isn’t limited to one day.  The Diocese has committed to future actions to see that the story is not forgotten and our determination that it not be repeated never fades… the Diocese will be consulting with survivors and the community to plan a permanent memorial.

Thanks to the wisdom gained through developing the Marist Memorial, we have a greater understanding of the inherent complexities and competing needs that require due consideration, when setting out to memorialise something as confronting and as sensitive as child sexual abuse. 

The Diocese needs to ‘hasten slowly’, starting from a place of humility, ensuring that we encourage those who have been affected by child abuse to participate and have their voices heard in the process, as well as engaging with the people of the Diocese, other institutions and authorities and the wider community.

I expect that we will be spending the rest of 2019 establishing all the necessary internal structures to support the project and begin our consultative processes.  We will then take the time required to get it right, whether that is a couple of years or more.

The Diocese’s senior leadership have committed to supporting this project, as has the Diocesan Protection and Safety Council and dedicated resources are being targeted to work on this project.  However, the success of the memorial will require the involvement of multiple personnel otherwise involved in challenging ministries and roles across the Diocese and beyond.  This memorial will demand all the focus and effort we are able to quarantine from our other responsibilities.

Despite our best intentions, I expect there will be miss-steps and setbacks, all of which is okay, as long as we work from a place of openness, commitment and care.  In the same spirit, I ask that our mistakes be assessed from a position of equanimity and that we are given the benefit of the doubt, in relation to this process at least.

The words inscribed into the granite stone of the Marist Brothers Memorial will stand the test of time:

In remembrance of all students, both living and deceased, who were victims of sexual abuse at this school which was Marist Brothers’ High School Hamilton.

The Marist Brothers – Province of Australia and the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle acknowledges your pain and apologises
for our failure to listen, to intervene and to protect.

Let it never happen again.

We are committed to the healing process and to reconciling our past
with our hope for the future.

Now the memorial will develop along its own trajectory, the gardens around it will grow and cast cooling shade, soften the sounds of the surrounding world and, hopefully, offer a tranquil well of memories for those who know or are drawn to wonder what it is we need to ‘Remember’. 

Now we turn our hearts, heads and hands to the Diocesan Memorial for those affected by child abuse, made wiser and more certain of the paths to follow by our experiences in developing the Marist Brothers Memorial.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105)

As soon as we are in a position to give you further details on the Diocesan Memorial for those affected by child abuse, we will do so.

Read about the Memorial event here

Follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Sean Tynan Image
Sean Tynan

Sean Tynan is the Manager, Zimmerman Services, Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Other Aurora Issues