Catholic Church memorial plans slammed by child abuse survivors support group

By Kerrin Thomas And Caitlin Furlong
ABC News
November 15, 2016

Ribbons are tied to the fence of the Armidale Catholic Cathedral as a sign of support for survivors.

Plans to set up a memorial for survivors and victims of child sexual abuse at a church in Armidale, in northern New South Wales, are being criticised by a support group.The Catholic Diocese of Armidale is one of a number of organisations to have come before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with the findings of a case study relating to a former priest yet to be handed down.

Bishop Michael Kennedy said the planned memorial on church grounds would replace a "temporary" memorial made up of ribbons tied to the cathedral's fence and was an indication that the survivors and victims of child sexual abuse would not be forgotten.

"We do need something that will ensure there isn't a continued silence on child abuse which unfortunately did occur for some years," he said.

But he said the ribbons had been distressing for some.

"There are some victims of abuse who do find the ribbons somewhat confronting — as a reminder of their own abuse and some of them are people who are members of our local parish — and they find it difficult to keep coming to the Cathedral, seeing the ribbons there all the time."

The ribbons are seen as a sign of support for survivors and a commitment not to silence such abuse.

Memorial placement 'sends a message', support group says

Robyn Knight from the Loud Fence group said there are a number of problems with the site of the memorial.

"The site of the memorial is on the church grounds, which really excludes the majority of victims because victims will not revisit the site of their abuse, or a place that's associated with their abuse," Ms Knight said.

"It's not in a public place — it's tucked quite away down the side of the building behind a staircase so it can't be seen. That to me sends a message in itself."

The church said some ribbons tied to the fence would be moved to the new memorial, some would be moved to the gate leading to the memorial, and others would be preserved in an archive of the diocese.

"I feel like this is a way that they can remove the ribbons, that's what it's about," Ms Knight said.

"We have been told by the church that there have been victims that have stated they can not enter the church grounds because the ribbons are triggering them, however I'm concerned about that statement as that message has never come to us."

Church defends placement, intention

Bishop Kennedy has defended the positioning, but acknowledged it was less prominent than the current fence.

"It is less prominent, yes, but still prominent. We've chosen an area along the outside wall of the cathedral where there is a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus," he said.

"I think that's a suitable place because within our tradition in the church, within Christianity, there's a long tradition of people going to Mary the mother of Jesus when they are in need of comfort.

"I thought it was also necessary that it be a little less visible, in order to try and show some sensitivity to those victims that do find [the ribbons] somewhat confronting.

"We've tried to find a solution that hopefully will be acceptable to all."

He added that following a meeting with members of Loud Fence last week, part of the fence will not be cleared of ribbons right away.

"Following advice from them we've decided to keep the ribbons in a section on the front fence for longer than originally planned ... I think that's going to help in the transition to a different type of memorial."

Bishop Kennedy said it was important to remember the past.

"I don't think there's a large danger of this but there is always the risk that once the Royal Commission is finished, a few things could be done and then it could be forgotten about," he said.

"If it is forgotten about there is always the risk that this issue within the church and also within the wider community could raise its ugly head again."

The memorial will be unveiled on December 4.


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