A man who spent years investigating child sexual abuse has received a standing ovation from Anglican clergy and laity after an address that highlighted how the church community failed to keep children safe.
When speaking to the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle at Christ Church Cathedral on Friday, Robert Fitzgerald said the belief that ordained clerics were different to lay people – which he described as a “cancer on this institution” – and a misplaced desire to protect the reputation of the church were among the factors that contributed to what he and his five fellow commissioners heard during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“Today, surely light must follow darkness,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
“In this diocese, in this church and in this community, a community that has been heavily affected by sexual abuse not only in the Anglican church but in the Catholic church and in the community generally, surely light must follow.
“But light does not follow unless you want it to. Light does not follow unless you light the flame.”
Mr Fitzgerald said the Anglican community had to choose who they would now listen to – abuse survivors or a small but vocal group of “nay sayers”.
He acknowledged steps the diocese had taken since the royal commission, which showed there had been “much learning” and said a key to moving forward would be for child sexual abuse and the protection of children to be considered an ongoing conversation – not a passing issue.
Earlier, Newcastle Bishop Peter Stuart said the Anglican community needed to move away from a persisting culture of secrecy and entitlement.
He said the diocese was in the process of signing up to the National Redress Scheme but he believed the measures would have been better if the federal government fully adopted the royal commission’s approach.
“As a nation, a church and a diocese we have been confronted by the truth that lasting harm was done to those who should have been able to look to institutions for safety,” he said.
“In the five years from 2012 to 2017, the royal commission confronted the culture of arrogance, power and entitlement [in the church] by naming over and over that the churches were places of egregious harm.
“They challenged us with the fact that people in the church largely didn’t see this, and when they did, they protected themselves, the church, or powerful friends. We have been told in no uncertain terms that this was our story here in Newcastle.”
Bishop Stuart canvassed a range of issues, including the need for “deep listening and conversation” with members of the LGBTIQ+ community and the dangers of climate change for the Hunter’s economy. He also called for asylum seeker children to be taken out of Nauru and for a philosophy, general religious education and ethics class to be taught in state schools.
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