A lot has happened in these five years, and particularly in the last twelve months or more. Our context is different, and context informs our feelings and understandings, our priorities and choices, our prayer and liturgy.
Two-and-a-half years of living with COVID-19 has opened our eyes, and the eyes of Australian society, to the broad spectrum of abuse including:
- The increasing incidence of domestic violence and abuse
- Ongoing child abuse in families: physical, sexual, emotional
- Lack of care and resources, and the abuse of the elderly both in aged care homes and our neighbourhoods
- Lack of care and resources, and the abuse of people with a disability, including our brothers and sisters who live with a mental health illness in care facilities and our neighbourhoods
- The sexual abuse and intimidation of women in society and some institutions structured around power, including our parliament
- Abuse of power in government institutions that disrespects all of us and our democratic principles including those of equity and justice
- Rampant abuse of creation, particularly of the earth which is our common home.
Our 2022 context also includes war in the Ukraine, and political and military power struggles and posturing in Asia and the Pacific.
Violence in all its forms, and abuse in particular, exist on a very broad spectrum. The examples listed above are on the extreme end. At the other end are the tiny seeds of abuse which, if not challenged, grow into and enable the extremes. Our long-standing Perpetual Day of Remembrance ‘Prayer for Turning on Light’ (see Resources section of this article) names some of these seeds: dishonesty, disrespect, hidden agendas, silence, exclusion. Such behaviours continue in our society, communities and workplaces.
What are we – the Catholic community – learning from our experience of abuse within the Church? How are we changing? What are we noticing and speaking up about, now our eyes are wide open? What are we doing differently? How can our story and experience of the historical sexual abuse of children, break us open to be a force for good and a source of wisdom in our ever-changing context? We know this landscape inside out. We know it because of the courage of survivors who have spoken up, and the media who amplified their voices and told their stories.
The resources listed below support the Church’s prayer response to the Perpetual Day of Remembrance. Prayer is not our only response. It is, however, our unique response. The social workers, counsellors, police, media, doctors, lawyers, government and the many other support networks, including our own church networks, continue to respond to survivors and their families with their human presence and professional expertise.
The community of faith prays with its eyes and hearts wide open. The community of faith prays that it will be changed – ‘it’ being the church. The community of faith prays: for those who cannot pray, for those who have lost all hope and faith, for those who see no possibility of healing, no hope for a new day. The community of faith prays for the survivors of sexual abuse perpetuated by members of the Catholic Church.
The community of faith prays for those in our society who are standing up and speaking out and demanding change: those who speak up for the environment; those who speak up for women: people like Rosie Batty, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins who name our unpalatable truths; family members who speak out about elder abuse and abuse of those living with a mental illness; people who are part of unjust systems and who name a truth and demand change.
The community of faith holds hope for those who are no longer able to hope. As the People of God whose life is grounded in Christ’s Paschal Mystery we know and seek to proclaim a truth far deeper than human wisdom and logic. It is the truth that in the very worst, the very darkest, the most devastating and hope-less moments of life, God is there with us, suffering with us, waiting with us, and acting to bring new and unimagined life out of death.
In 2022, our context has sharpened the imperative to remember and reflect on the story of historic child sexual abuse in the church of Maitland-Newcastle. The need for prayer is even more urgent. As always, the point of our remembering and praying is that we will be changed and help to shine the light of Christ in all the dark places of our Church and our world. We pray as Jesus taught the disciples
that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will be done.
The regular resources have been revised and updated in light of feedback from 2021. They are available on the diocesan website. Resources include the following:
Parish Resource the primary focus of which are notes and a Master template for Mass on Perpetual Day of Remembrance Sunday on 11 September.
School, Agency and Group Resource which includes special resources for schools with the emphasis on them doing ONE thing.
This year the resources have been expanded to include:
A version of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ specifically for the Perpetual Day of Remembrance. The Stations of the Cross: We Lament and We Hope is available as a Master Copy and People’s Booklet. There is a suggestion in the ‘notes’ in the Master Copy that parishes with stational churches might consider celebrating the Stations in each church on different days/nights as a type of novena leading up to Perpetual Day of Remembrance Sunday.
Word documents of the Parish and School resources are being sent to those communities.
The diverse and strong feeling about this day remains. Diverse and strong feeling exists about all abuse. The range of resources seeks to respect our diversity.
Let us pray well using strong symbols. Our context calls for renewed boldness. Let’s get on with it. What are you able to do in this space?
It is also important to note that the imperative to pray is further strengthened by the recently released Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement 2022-2023, Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse and by the second decree for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
Image: © Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.