'Loud Fence' ribbons removed from Ballarat cathedral three days after royal commission findings
By Sue Peacock
December 17, 2017
|St Patrick's parishioners in Ballarat line up to cut the ribbons off the cathedral's iron fence.|
|Ribbons tied to the wrought-iron fence and gates outside St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral in Ballarat.|
Ballarat Catholic Diocese Vicar-General Father Justin Driscoll has defended the decision to cut hundreds of brightly coloured ribbons off the fence at St Patrick's Cathedral just three days after the findings of the royal commission into child sexual abuse were made public.
The ribbons represented support for victims of child sexual abuse and were part of the Ballarat-born Loud Fence movement, which has spread around the world in the wake of widespread abuse by institutions such as the Catholic Church.
The ribbons were stripped from the fence on Sunday by St Patrick's parishioners and placed in a special purpose-built box in the corner of the churchyard.
But just hours after they were removed new ones were being tied back on after survivors and their supporters reacted angrily to the move.
And many of them took to social media vowing they would decorate the cathedral fence on Ballarat's main street with even more ribbons this week.
Disrespectful and a mistake
Loud fence founder Maureen Hatcher criticised the move — which coincided with the opening of a memorial garden at the cathedral for those affected by abuse — saying it was disrespectful and a mistake.
"I believe it is poor timing in light of the royal commission report and recommendations being released," she said. "Many survivors need those ribbons now more than ever."
Those who had placed ribbons on the fence over the past two-and-a-half years had been invited to remove their own ribbon and to either take it home, or place it in a glass-topped black box in the garden.
"I believe it is laughable for the church to hide the ribbons in a box when 'hiding' things has been a huge part of their now, universally recognised, past poor practices," Ms Hatcher said.
Father Driscoll acknowledged the move was divisive but said it had been planned with the input of abuse survivors.
Church won't 'enter into a battle'
"The community certainly is not in one voice about this," he said prior to the garden opening.
"Some would prefer the ribbons to stay for longer and others recognise that perhaps today is the right day."
He said abuse survivors had requested that the ribbons stay on the fence until the royal commission ended.
"And so we were happy to go with that timing."
However, Father Driscoll expected people would continue to tie ribbons to the cathedral's fence where they would be allowed to stay "for a time".
"We haven't determined any particular timeframe on that. But we won't be entering into a battle with those who are tying ribbons, not at all," he said.
Survivor Phil Nagle, who was sexually abused at St Alipius primary school in Ballarat East, said the diocese should be concentrating on its "catastrophic failure of leadership" and the commission's recommendations instead of removing the ribbons.