A Pastoral Statement from Bishop Michael Kennedy, Diocese of Armidale

I have recently returned from the Public Hearing of the Royal Commission into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell. The hearing has not formally concluded but has been adjourned. In due course the Royal Commission will publish a report on their findings and recommendations.

This statement is my personal reflection following my attendance at the Royal Commission Hearing. It is my hope that by reading this you may come to an understanding of my own depth of sorrow and shame for the failings of our Church and Diocese and that you might be informed of the changes that have been taking place in the Diocese to ensure that our parishes are safe places for all the children and vulnerable in our care.

Listening to the victims and survivors

Along with others from the Diocese I sat in the Royal Commission hearing room and listened to the statements and evidence given by the survivors. I was deeply moved by their testimony. It is crucial that the Church truly hear their cry.

I listened to two survivors. I heard of their horror, pain, fear and hurt. I heard of their betrayal, of their inhuman treatment, and of the torment they continue to suffer as a result of the abuse they endured. I heard of the long lasting effects this abuse has had on their lives. Their courage and integrity shone through in their testimony. They are brave and dignified men whom I hold in high esteem. I thank them for their testimony and assure them that I will never forget.

I listened to a victim’s mother. She spoke powerfully of her family’s struggle to be heard by Church authorities when their son had so bravely spoken up to reveal the abuse. The treatment they received from the Church was appalling. They, and others who brought the matter into the open should have been encouraged to do so and should have been listened to. I and the Church owe them a debt of gratitude for bringing this matter to everybody’s attention for the sake and safety of children. I thank all who came forward and spoke up in 1984. The thanks you now receive comes far too late; you should have been thanked then.
Not every victim of child abuse is a survivor. A particularly tragic result of child abuse occurs when a person loses his or her life as a result of the abuse. Some victims have committed suicide and the lives of some victims have spiralled so much out of control that it has resulted in premature death. How can we not hear and respond to this desperate cry?

All abuse impacts terribly upon the victim. It is neither helpful nor appropriate to suggest that it does not hurt some victims as much as others. Every abuse victim and their family suffer as a result of the abuse and, no matter how well some might eventually learn to “live” or “cope” with it, they carry a tremendous cross their entire life. All child abuse is a despicable sin and crime.

Inadequacy of the Church’s Past Response in the Diocese of Armidale The Royal Commission Hearing has highlighted once again the inadequacy of the Church and our Diocese in responding to allegations of abuse. This inadequacy started with the failure to listen to the victims and their parents. Administratively the failures included poor record keeping, ineffective assessments, inefficient inquiries, and a failure to share important information. Pastorally the failures included a completely inept response to and treatment of victims and their families, and safeguarding the reputation of the Church ahead of ensuring the safety and well-being of children.

I apologise to all victims and their families for the failure of the Diocese to respond promptly, appropriately and decisively to protect you and your children.

The Church’s Current Response in the Diocese of Armidale Whenever I meet with victims and survivors and their family members, they want to know what the Diocese is doing to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. I assure them that change has indeed been taking place and is continuing to occur. The Church’s response and attitude may not be perfect but it is continually improving.Since becoming Bishop of Armidale in February 2012 I have instituted a number of changes and reviews which I believe are important to reducing the risk of a child or vulnerable adult ever being abused within the Church. I encourage you to read the ten point summary of the Diocese’s current response at the end of this Pastoral Letter. Don’t let evil win Abuse of a child is an abomination. It is criminal, evil and cruel. It damages the person being abused and impacts their families. The impact spreads to our whole community. All of us feel the weight of the shame, horror and disgust that a priest or any person can so horribly violate another person, especially a child. It is a violation of their body, their soul, their spirit, their innocence, their entire person.

During our Diocesan World Youth Day pilgrimage earlier this year our young pilgrims and I visited the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz. At the end of the visit our guide said “If you leave here angry, then Hitler will have won.” These words struck me and I believe they are applicable to the evil of child abuse. It is not possible to comprehend how anyone can perpetrate such evil actions upon a child. I implore you to not let John Farrell and others who have abused or failed to protect children “win” by taking away your faith and peace of mind. I plead with you to consider that their actions do not represent the Church nor its people. With your help and support I and the Diocese will do our best to ensure that such evil is never able to occur again in our Church. Let us continue to pray for all victims and survivors and their families, and to work together to ensure all our children are safe, happy, and loved.

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Bishop Michael Kennedy Image
Bishop Michael Kennedy

Bishop Michael Kennedy is the ninth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.