Compassion and justice

WHEN Pope Benedict XVI came to Australia in 2008 his apology to victims of priestly abuse within the Catholic church didn’t leave room for interpretation.

The misdeeds of errant priests, he said, constituted ‘‘a grave betrayal of trust’’ and deserved ‘‘unequivocal condemnation’’.

‘‘Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice,’’ the Pope declared.

Almost five years later, progress towards those goals is hard to measure.

While the church has, at various levels of its hierarchy, taken several steps to compensate and counsel victims, the human damage seems to be proving difficult to adequately address.

A tragic pointer to this difficulty is provided by the disappearance last Saturday of John Pirona, 45, of Belmont North, whose long struggle with the emotional and psychological consequences of his abuse at the hands of a priest was a lifelong burden to himself and his family.

Equally troubling was the public assertion last week by Victorian lower house speaker Ken Smith, who chaired a 1990s inquiry into priestly abuse, that the church was not ‘‘fair dinkum’’ – either then or now – about dealing with the issue.

It seems fair to observe, from comments made by Mr Pirona’s family and from repeated public statements by victims’ groups, that the two goals identified by the Pope in Australia in 2008 are interlocking and inseparable.

Without justice being served on those who perpetrated the crimes, many victims will never feel that their injury and betrayal has been truly recognised or afforded its proper weight.

While the church, nationwide, has certainly paid out large sums of money in financial compensation to victims, it continues to be accused of being slow in helping bring abusive priests to justice.

The church has promised to co-operate with the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into priestly abuse, and it has sponsored an investigation of its own into the activities in NSW of the notorious ‘‘Father F’’.

But a nagging uneasiness remains, that the church may not be anxious to really lift the lid on the decades of inaction and ad hoc in-house reactions to evidence of criminal activities by some of its priests.

Without proper disclosure, however painful it may be, neither of Pope Benedict’s goals are likely to be fully achieved.

Stephen Forgacs

THE saga of the late Stephen Forgacs and his shipbuilding enterprise is a classic rags to riches story.

Fairly described as ‘‘an unconventional business figure’’, Mr Forgacs made his name part of the Novocastrian vocabulary as a word that stands for hard work and hard-nosed negotiation.

Even the unionists who sometimes fought him never doubted his commitment to Newcastle and his unyielding determination to preserve and enhance what remains of the city’s proud industrial legacy.

Many Hunter people owe years of good employment to his drive and vision.

His advocacy will be missed. It is vital that his legacy is preserved.

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