The Diocese has committed to marking 15 September each year, a Day of Remembrance. It is a chance to honour the stories of survivors and their families, to own the shame that should accompany the recognition of our failures, and to publicly recommit ourselves to a different future where the most vulnerable among us, both in the Church and in the broader community, are safe – not just because we are legally obliged to protect them, but because, first and foremost, we recognise our moral duty to protect those who have been created in the image and likeness of God.
As the Church of Maitland-Newcastle, we cannot begin to claim a change in our approach to the safety of children and vulnerable people if we are not able to own our past. Our story, the story of abuse, of silence, of cover-up, must be the point of departure for our future, and it must always be our point of reference for our actions as we seek to atone for what has been perpetrated against innocent children.
In his recently released Letter to the People of God, Pope Francis reminds us
Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228).
The Holy Father goes on to call the entire People of God to embrace penitential prayer and fasting in order to “awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.”
The annual Day of Remembrance can form part of this penitential prayer and fasting, helping us, in the Pope’s words, to
as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.
This day provides an opportunity for those of us who find themselves in positions of leadership within our Diocese to come together in a public way and commit ourselves to a future for the Church that owns our past and looks forward to our future. I strongly urge you to acknowledge the Day of Remembrance, at parish Masses on the weekend of 15 & 16 September, and within our schools and agencies. It is important not to ignore the possibility that there may be survivors of abuse, and their families, among your worshipping and workplace community on that day, as we mark the first annual Day of Remembrance.
If this Day of Remembrance raises distress, the diocese’s Healing and Support Team within Zimmerman Services may be contacted on 49791390. If anyone wishes to report past or present abuse they should contact the Police, and Zimmerman Services can also support them in doing so.