THIS week’s decision to remove the name of a disgraced bishop from a commemorative plaque at a Warrnambool school was a significant step forward for survivors of clergy abuse.
It was so significant, a south-west man who courageously told his story to the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse, cried.
They were tears of relief. After decades of suffering, the simple and right decision, struck at the heart.
“I know to many people this will seem a very small thing but the school’s decision recognises the wrongs of the past,” he said.
“We are not trying to rewrite history, just to acknowledge what has happened.”
Warrnambool’s largest primary school, St Joseph’s, opened on its current site opposite the city’s Botanic Gardens in 1985. A plaque commemorating the occasion and former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns’ role in opening the school will now be changed.
Mulkearns, who knew about notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale’s offending in 1975, moved Ridsdale from churches around the region when complaints about his behaviour were made, allowing him to continue offending.
St Joseph’s school council decision should be applauded.
“Our school council’s view was to importantly maintain the recorded historical fact of the opening celebration but to respect the victims of clerical abuse,” the council said.
Mortlake’s St Colman’s Primary School has also removed a plaque carrying Mulkearns’ name.
Mulkearns’ legacy will always be one of repulsion for his role in covering up child sexual abuse during his reign as Bishop. By doing so, he gave approval to such abhorrent behaviour. Survivors do not need any reminding of the man, who died a disgraced figure last year.
The Catholic and broader community need to support survivors and, as reported last month, there are many commemorative plaques across the region carrying Mulkearns’ name which need to be removed.
Unfortunately for survivors it will be a slow process, just like their own healing. Steps like those taken by St Joseph’s and St Colman’s are examples of mature, conciliatory thinking.
The church for too long tried to hide its dark secrets. It needs to embrace the community expectation to support and nurture survivors because they sure deserve it.