The precedent set by the Catholic Church during a civil case between a south-west survivor of clergy sexual abuse and the Ballarat Diocese on Friday was significant for victims across the globe.
If the successful prosecution of the actual offenders was the work of the past decades, (and there maybe still more demanding justice), the church's admission of liability, a less spectacular and more complex civil process, represents steps toward a future of achieving some redress for victims. In a more general sense it also represents a major opportunity for how the south-west community, and more specifically the Catholic Church, can find a way forward from the sordid and abhorrent mess that is the era of clergy sexual abuse.
Outside of this case, what we know from the history of this crisis in the church, both in the south-west and across the world, is after every individual prosecution of a deviant priest or brother, multiple more victims have come forward to tell their story. However this particular case concludes, it is likely to be the beginning not the end.
Full and just compensation for all these victims will likely cost the church millions, if not billions, across the globe. But however severe a blow that is to a 2000-year-old institution, what is the forfeit of any amount of land or revenue compared to the lives that have been lost? As for the church, any amount of money paid out is a small loss compared to the moral authority that decades of scandal and deceit have trashed.
For many of the survivors this is not about money, it was more about an injustice revealed and righted; the catastrophe of a pernicious culture bolstered by truculent denial that at every step put institutional reputation before empathy.
In another way this case and all those to come could also represent an opportunity; to make restitution for one of the darkest periods in the church's history in the south-west. Perhaps most of all it is a chance to recapture some of that compassion which was meant to be the hallmark of Christianity. And out of that, potentially, the whole community can find a way forward on its long road toward healing.