"We Can't Have Business As Usual': Ballarat Catholics Push for Change
By Charlotte King
December 18, 2017
|PHOTO: Ribbons outside St Patrick's in Ballarat, tied in support for victims and survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)|
Catholics in the Victorian town of Ballarat — referred to as an epicentre of child sexual abuse — say the church must accept grassroots involvement from parishioners to enact changes recommended by the royal commission.
The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse issued a damning report about the Ballarat Catholic Diocese earlier this month, describing its handling of clergy child sex abuse as a "catastrophic failure of leadership".
The Commission's final report, released on Friday, also called for sweeping reforms for the Catholic church including that bishops draw upon advice from lay people in relation to the admission of individuals to the priesthood.
In a statement, Pope Francis said the findings "deserve to be studied in depth" while the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, said the church would seriously consider all of the royal commission's 189 new recommendations, but rejected calls for priests to be forced to break the seal of confessional.
The Ballarat Catholic Diocese said it was open to a recommendation that would see parish priests stripped of their power over schools.
Church has lost respect and followers
Ann Ryan worked for almost 20 years at St Colman's parish primary school in the western Victorian farming community of Mortlake.
It took seven years for the now renounced catholic to discover the paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale had been assaulting school children in the town.
"From that point in 1989 I was lobbying, until about '94 or 5, actively lobbying, writing to the Bishop, visiting him," she said.
In one of her letters, Ms Ryan wrote: "How can we truly live with ourselves, in such a thundering silence of injustice and ugliness."
"I thought I was revealing something … I even raised the sexual abuse issue at one of our diocesan assemblies in 1993," Ms Ryan said.
"There were representatives, lay people, from all parishes at the Ballarat diocese at that assembly.
"Everyone sort of looked the other way or put their head down and didn't know where to look, and it was not addressed."
Ms Ryan said she supported a public condemnation of the church's actions.
"I've lost total respect for the church."
"Canon law is keeping everything from changing appropriately, because you cannot have canon law being utilised above the law of the land."
It can't be 'business as usual'
Frank Sheehan is a former Labor member of state parliament and was the previously the head of a grassroots Catholic group in Ballarat which formed in 2013 to provide practical support to survivors of child sex abuse.
"I suppose there's a sense of satisfaction and relief, the royal commission has completed its work," Mr Sheehan said.
"I think it's going to really be a new beginning."
The group has since disbanded and some of its members have abandoned the church.
"We do need, as a laity, to come to attention, and put our point of view to what is now the future, the work to be done in the future," Mr Sheehan said.
Mr Sheehan said he supported the church allowing greater involvement for parishioners.
"We can't have business as usual. There's no question. That's the message that everyone's getting I think," he said.
"Certainly, I think it's important that the individuals within the church have some input."
Ann Ryan said the inquiry brought hope, after decades of disillusionment, but said she was sceptical about the possibilities for real change in the church.
"If they think that they are going to change things from the ground up, it's not going to happen because Rome won't let it," she said.
"Unless Rome wants to change, and agrees to change, it's not going to happen properly."