WITH less than two weeks before submissions close on a Victorian government inquiry into child abuse, Catholic Church leaders have written a pastoral letter reaffirming a public apology to victims and their families.
“We know that parents especially feel an intense betrayal of trust, that even one child could have been so grievously hurt by these people whose call it is to serve others,” the letter says.
“The church has apologised for these failures. Today we renew this apology to victims and their families.
“We are deeply sorry.”
The letters, to be distributed among all Victorian Catholic parishes and churches this weekend, are signed by retiring Ballarat diocese Bishop Peter Connors along with the Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, the bishops of Sale and Sandhurst dioceses and senior nuns representing national and Victorian Catholic religious orders.
It deals with issues to be heard by the joint parliamentary inquiry into handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations.
Written submissions close on August 31.
Police investigations show links between some suicides and child abuse by church figures.
Several children in south-west Victorian parishes were victims of sexual abuse by clergy, including former priest Gerald Ridsdale who was convicted and jailed in 1994 for crimes committed in the 1970s.
Archbishop Hart said the letters, which include a prayer for healing, acknowledged “the suffering and trauma endured by children who have been in the church’s care and the effect on their families”.
“The church has learnt from these failures and our response has changed,” he said.
In the pastoral letter, crimes against children in church care are described as “a matter of continuing shame and dismay to all Catholics”.
“We promise you we will act on our apology by continuing to take decisive action to protect our children and to respond when abuse has occurred.
“The church respects the parliamentary process and will co-operate fully with the inquiry.
“It will be a challenging and difficult period for victims and their families, for us as a church, and for other religious and non-government organisations who work with children across our community.”
The letter predicts the inquiry may reveal “disturbing reports” of cases when church processes failed to protect children.
“We need to learn from these failures to continue to ensure we do everything in our power to protect children.”
The Broken Rites group which assists sexual abuse victims questioned the letter’s sincerity considering the church’s intense legal defence against earlier court action.
Broken Rites is preparing a submission for the inquiry.