The Innocents

Each year on 15 September we pause to remember the trauma and devastation inflicted on victims of child sexual abuse by clergy and other Church personnel in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Known as the Perpetual Day of Remembrance, it also acknowledges the impact on victim’s families and the community as a whole.

This past year I have had the privilege of being part of the process to create a piece of music to commemorate this significant day, and the equally important Clergy Abused Network (CAN) Day of Remembrance on October 22.

The idea for the piece, titled ‘The Innocents’, was proposed by Elizabeth Seysener, a survivor of clergy abuse and deputy chairperson of CAN.

“Music has always been a powerful tool to tap into emotions and also to regulate emotions when I feel the need to change my mood,” said Elizabeth.

“I envisage this piece being used in supportive settings with survivors and supporters.”

The project was financed by the Bishop’s Healing Fund, an annual allocation of funds established by Bishop Bill Wright in 2020 to assist in promoting the healing of those affected by child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Knowing the importance of finding ‘the right’ composer for the piece, Elizabeth suggested David Banney, the well known and respected Director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral and the Newcastle Music Festival, and the Artistic Director of the Christ Church Camerata in Newcastle.

David’s process began by discussing, with Elizabeth and I, the complexity of survivors’ emotions and experiences. We agreed that the music needed to be reflective while also hopeful.

“Music is a language that at once says nothing and everything - it says nothing specific, and, perhaps because of that, can communicate and reach people when words fail,” said David.

To respect and reflect the emotions and experiences of those directly affected, David tried to avoid giving the piece a ‘church music’ feeling.

“The piece opens with a simple chord progression, played on beautiful electronic instruments, preparing for the solo violin,” he said.

“The middle section is more melodic and goal-directed, but frequent changes of harmony and rhythm reflect the many and varied emotions that may be
experienced by survivors of abuse.”

“This section reaches a climax, and the opening music returns, leading to a final phrase in which the violin soars slowly upwards, offering some kind of peace at the end.”

Elizabeth said she loved the way the music changed pace and took you on a journey of your own choosing.

“The wonderful thing about this piece is you can decide what you want or need from it - whether it’s to tap into an emotion like grief, regret or gratitude or just simply to be still for a moment,” she said.

“Wherever it takes you and whatever it evokes I hope that, as the violin soars upwards at the end, it lifts you to a positive place of peace and perhaps a place of healing and hope as well.”

David admitted having to communicate on behalf of survivors was one of the most challenging commissions he had ever received.

“I regularly considered, what might I even possibly know and understand about what it is like to be a survivor?” he said.

“In a way, I have tried to avoid sending listeners away with a specific message, but perhaps the ethos of the music is respect, complexity and hope.”

“Apart from whatever solace the music may bring to individuals, I hope that the act of listening can remind us that each of us has a responsibility not only to embrace survivors of abuse, but to ensure that abuse within the church stops right now.”

I hope it’s experienced as a beautiful moment to reflect, acknowledge, be grateful to survivors for everything they have taught us about keeping children safe, and to never forget.

If this story raises any concerns for you, you can contact the Zimmerman Service by calling 02 4923 0636 or email,au

Resources to support the community’s prayer response on The Perpetual Day of Remembrance (15 Sept) and Perpetual Day of Remembrance Sunday (10 Sept) are available on the diocesan website. The range of resources enables everyone to participate in whatever way is most authentic, from lighting a candle and perhaps saying a prayer in your home, to joining with others at Mass on Perpetual Day of Remembrance Sunday.


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