THE HERALD'S OPINION: Child abuse royal commission hears the survivors

TWO Anglican Bishops of Newcastle, Alfred Holland and Roger Herft, showed “a distinct lack of leadership, and alleged perpetrators were not called to account”.

So says the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, in a statement issued to mark the release of its long-awaited case study into the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.

The Newcastle hearings – in the new courthouse in Hunter Street – were an emotional time for all concerned. After years of denying it had problems, the diocese was forced to confront its failings in the most public of fashions, with its past and present leaders taking the witness stand under the basilisk eye of the commission’s chair, Peter McClellan, and his team of forensically driven counsel assisting.

On the street, survivors and their supporters made their messages clear to the world. Their time had finally come. And in reading the report, it is obvious that the commission has listened closely to what the survivors have had to say, and in many cases has preferred their version of events to those given by the powerful men who, the evidence shows, wrongly ignored their pleas for help.

While many of the events examined in the Anglican case study are historical – and in some cases examine the actions of individuals no longer living – Thursday’s report makes it clear that the commission believes the Newcastle diocese still has a substantial way to travel.

In its concluding remarks, the commission says: “We consider that a major shift in understanding and awareness must occur in the diocese if it is to improve its response to child sexual abuse going forward.

“The diocesan community as a whole must take responsibility for this problem. In particular, there is a role for further education on the reasons why survivors of abuse may not disclose their abuse immediately or at all and the feelings of shame and powerlessness associated with being a survivor.

“There is still an attitude in some segments of the diocese that survivors should just ‘move on’. Until that attitude evolves, very little may change in this institution.”

In playing a substantial role in creating the political atmosphere that brought forth the royal commission, the Newcastle Herald welcomes these words, on behalf of survivors everywhere. Calmly and objectively, the commission has heard their calls.

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