Local Catholic leaders open door for sex abuse talks

AFTER weathering years of negative feedback about sexual abuse cover-ups, Warrnambool’s Catholic Church parish leaders have taken a proactive approach by opening up the previously taboo topic for discussion.

Tomorrow two discussion workshops will be held in St Joseph’s Church foyer to address the issue of child sex abuse within the wider community and its impact on victims.

“This is an opportunity for the church and wider community to come together for a greater understanding of the issues associated with child sexual abuse,” parish priest Father John Fitzgerald said.

“We know that child sexual abuse was ineptly and unsympathetically handled by the Catholic Church.

“We deplore what has happened in the past. 

“Now we can only look forward toward the future and ensure this never happens again.

“The subject ‘how to address the future’ has been under discussion in our region for quite some time, hence our invitation to Professor Caroline Taylor AM to address the workshops on Thursday at 10am and 7.30pm.”

Ballarat-based researcher, author and advocate Professor  Taylor won an Order of Australia medal in 2012 for her work on the issues of child sexual abuse and violence against women.

She has held discussion forums around Australia and overseas and will lead the Warrnambool workshops.

Fr Fitzgerald said he understood it was the first time the Catholic Church in south-west Victoria had organised open discussions on the issue.

“People directly affected by past abuses within the church have had a state parliamentary inquiry and an ongoing royal commission to hear their accounts,” he said.

“We want to open discussions on  sexual abuse within the wider community.

“People  across the district are invited to attend.

“The workshops will give people opportunity to be heard and ask questions and feel support.”

Professor Taylor founded the Children of Phoenix charity which provides scholarships to survivors of child sexual assault.

Her website says she runs workshops to “demystify community perceptions of child sexual abuse in terms of its prevalence and the context where most abuse occurs”.

She says the majority of sexual abuse happens in a family setting either by a family member, extended family or people closely linked to the family.

“Disclosure is a critical moment and the response received to that disclosure is paramount and is linked to the recovery of the victim,” she says. Meanwhile, a Ballarat-based volunteer organisation, Moving Towards Justice, has invited families of victims of church-related abuse to have their loved ones remembered in the Quilt of Hope which will eventually be hung in a prominent public space.

Organisers can be contacted on www.mtj.net.au

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