THE depth of shame and pain associated with clergy sexual abuse meant a support group leader had to represent survivors at the unveiling of a historic plaque on Tuesday.
Warrnambool's Emmanuel College recognising the failure of leaders within the Catholic Church to respond to reports of historical sexual abuse by unveiling the plaque.
In Good Faith Foundation president Paul Holdway said it should be a victim/survivor speaking but it was a measure of their shame and pain that they were not prepared to attend the unveiling of the plaque.
He thanked the college for recognising the pain caused in the past, saying it was a step in the healing journey.
"This school’s being honest, it has responded by telling the truth and the truth will set you free," he said.
Emmanuel College principal Peter Morgan said the plaque was to acknowledge a past failing and the terrible consequences of failing to act.
He said it was now understood that former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns failed to act when complaints of sexual abuse were made to him.
"As a result children and young people were preyed on and submitted to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, sometimes repeated over many years," he said.
"His failure to provide the protection that is the right of every child, left the door open for damage to occur, damage that destroyed the lives of individuals, of families and sometimes whole communities."
Mr Morgan said that over time society had come to understand that the wounds caused never disappeared.
“Today we are making a public statement, a statement of solidarity with those and their families who were the innocent victims of these crimes,” he said.
“We do not necessarily know their names, we don’t necessarily know how many there were. But we do know that it happened. Today we add another plaque to this wall.
“One that says we stand in solidarity with those people who were physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually harmed during the time in our history when the typical response to allegations of abuse was to look the other way.”
Mr Morgan said it wasn’t possible to turn back the clock or right the wrongs of the past.
“But, as a place of learning Emmanuel College knows it can shape this generations and future generations of young people to be people of integrity, people who care for one another and people who act when another’s safety is at risk,” he said.
The principal said the risk of sexual abuse remained in the community with a child assaulted in Australia every 90 minutes.
“We have reached this step today following 12 months of deliberations by the college board of management,” he said.
“I acknowledge the courage and the generosity of one local victim who provided me with guidance and insight during the past 12 months.”
Mr Morgan said those conversations assisted in asking the crucial question – what is the right thing to do?
“So, we take this step today not because we seek approval or recognition but because it is the right thing to do,” he said.
“Our response, we know, is a small step in the much larger journey towards healing and recognition. But it is a beginning, a step along the way,” he said.