POLL: Church sex abuse victims break their silence

IT is the list that underscores a tragedy, a roll call of shame with crimes against children at its heart.

It is the genesis of decades of suffering, the silent wrecking ball in our community behind too many broken families, too many lost and shattered lives and too much pain.

It is the list the Catholic church tries to deny, minimise, consign to the past and dispatch as ‘‘ancient history’’, the ugly truth so cruelly dismissed by Australian Bishop Anthony Fisher in 2008 as people ‘‘dwelling crankily on old wounds’’.

 It is a list reflecting the church’s offences against children in the Hunter and Central Coast regions since the early 1950s. 

Some people are named, others can’t  be for legal reasons. Some are dead but are included because documents and court decisions leave little or no doubt about offenders, or knowledge of offenders.

It is a long list that includes more than 400 victims but, as Heal for Life chief executive Liz Mullinar said yesterday, it is the tip of the iceberg.

 ‘‘It’s an enormous problem and the Catholic church is in denial, but all churches are implicated because it’s the best alibi for a paedophile – he’s a good Christian,’’ Ms Mullinar said. 

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches in the Hunter region have experienced turmoil in recent years because of child sexual abuse.

The region’s child sexual abuse crisis has cost  the Catholic church dearly in financial terms – at least $20million in compensation, support and legal expenses, and quite probably much more.

 The crimes of just one priest, Vince Ryan, cost the church $6.4million, with about half covered by insurance.

The figure includes $3million to one victim, the highest known payout by the Catholic church to an Australian victim.

The cost to the church for the crimes of another notorious Hunter paedophile priest is close to $10million.

In a letter as early as 2000 the then Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle Michael Malone was reporting the diocese ‘‘has been put to enormous cost’’ funding civil and criminal actions flowing from Vince Ryan, which were ‘‘a significant drain’’ on resources.

And the Ryan case was one of the first.

 But the greater cost of the sexual abuse crisis is on the church’s standing in the community, according to outspoken American priest Tom Doyle who backs the Hunter region’s call for a royal commission, and a public meeting at Newcastle Panthers from 11am tomorrow hosted by the Newcastle Herald to support victims. 

‘‘There has been momentous change and it will continue because a steadily increasing number of men and women whose lives were not directly touched by abuse are seeing this nightmare for what it is and are reacting in support of the victims,’’ Father Doyle said.

‘‘The crisis and scandal in the church is not fundamentally about sex but the abysmal and treacherous abuse of power over the most innocent and vulnerable in our communities.’’

 Maitland-Newcastle diocese has been the focus of media attention, but the Broken Rites victims’ support group based in Victoria said the Hunter was not the only region with significant problems. It is just that more people are coming forward, and police are investigating and prosecuting.

‘‘What’s happening in Maitland-Newcastle is not unique, but people are speaking out,’’ spokesman John McNally said.

‘‘A paedophile’s best friend is silence.’’ 

Add your name to the petition calling for a royal commission.

EDITORIAL: Wounds need light of truth 

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