Napier Church Fence Tied with Ribbons to Raise Awareness of Child Sexual Abuse

By Shannon Johnstone
New Zealand Herald
October 25, 2020

Dr Christopher Evan Longhurst (centre) and others tie ribbons to the fence at St Patricks Catholic Church in Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

PT261020Ribbons.JPG The ribbons will remain tied to the fence of St Patrick's Catholic Church in Dickens St, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

By Shannon Johnstone

A tide of ribbons will be a permanent fixture on the St Patrick's Church Napier fence as part of the Loud Fence movement.

The Loud Fence movement began in Australia in 2015, at St Alipius Boys' School in Ballarat, a site of abuse, and the movement aims to raise awareness of clerical and religious child sexual abuse.

There have been Loud Fence events in New Zealand before but this is the first that has been created by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Aotearoa.

SNAP Aotearoa national leader and abuse survivor Dr Christopher Evan Longhurst said the movement began as a protest but is now "an acknowledgment of the wrongdoing", a healing process for survivors and an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue to safeguard children for the future.

It is also a non-partisan, non-political and non-religious movement.

Napier is Longhurst's hometown and he felt it was important to get the support of the local community.

"Hawke's Bay was the place of horrendous clerical child sexual abuse in the local Catholic community.

"So, this Loud Fence is also an opportunity for them [survivors] to understand that they're not alone. The shame is not ours and there is only dignity in surviving that kind of abuse."

It is also a time to remember the survivors who took their own lives, and Longhurst tied a ribbon with the name of a classmate who took his own life.

"We call ourselves survivors because not all of us survived, some of us took our own lives," Longhurst said.

The ribbons will remain tied to the fence of St Patrick's Catholic Church in Dickens St, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

"I was silent, I was told to be silent, my mother was told to be silent.

"The people who knew about this in the 70s, 80s and 90s, rather than deal with it they moved the perpetrators from school to school, parish to parish, from church to church where the abuse continued. They knew and they let it happen.

"That's why this movement is so important because they now can't keep silent."

Speaking out and raising awareness is "the antidote to breaking the shame" and Longhurst said the more it is acknowledged, "the more we can heal from it".

A group of survivors from the SNAP Network, family members of survivors, a couple of priests, the St John's College principal, a Marist Brother, a representative of the local iwi and others attended the ribbon-tying event at 1pm on Saturday.

The ribbons came from SNAP Network members around the country and also from California.

The ribbons were blessed by the priest, which Longhurst said made the event more special.

"They became powerful, that site became sacred in a way. Again, not that it's a religious thing but it just shows that the local parish were on board."

Catholic Parish of Napier priest Father Barry Scannell said the church is "very supportive" of the movement.

Given previous silence, Fr Scannell said it is "very important" to stand in solidarity with survivors.

"The wider church is definitely in support of making this issue certainly one that is not covered up, that is uncovered, everything the church does these days is aimed towards that and also the supporting and hopefully recovery of those who have been affected by it."

The parishioners were also invited to tie ribbons after mass on Sunday.

Cardinal John Dew the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Palmerston North wrote to the clergy of the diocese stating his support for the movement, asking them to be respectful of the process and to inform their communities of it.

Longhurst hopes people will continue to tie ribbons and Fr Scannell said the ribbons will be staying up.








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