By SARAH GRANT
When I was a little girl, my Mum used to tuck my sister and I into bed with a kiss good night, calling out “sweet dreams, God bless,” as she switched off the light.
Like her and her parents before her, we were raised as Catholics. We attended a Catholic primary school, where, from the age of eight, we were required to liturgical dance down the aisles of the local church clad in gold robes, singing hymns praising the wonder and good of God as we went.
As a non-practicing Catholic adult, I have often reflected on the religious emphasis of my early schooling, but despite the subtle sense of indoctrination, I have always felt fairly positive about the faith I was raised with. As a child and as an adult, Catholicism has represented a sense of family and security, a belief that served to deliver a sense of morality and a strong code of values.
That is, until I watched the incredibly powerful and confronting ‘Unholy Silenc’e report that aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday night. Sitting on my couch after the program ended, tears streaming down my face, I felt ashamed to be aligned with a church that would turn its back on something as predatory and life destroying as sexual abuse inflicted by a priest.
Abuse of any nature is a terrible act, steeped in an evil exploitation of power. But when the type of abuse is sexual, and it is inflicted on a child by a trusted family source, the outcome is truly devastating—as exampled in this emotionally challenging and provocative piece of investigative journalism.
It revealed senior leaders in the Catholic Church had failed to pass on to police the details of widespread child sexual abuse that a New South Wales priest clearly admitted to. The abhorrent actions of this priest resulted in the suicide of several of his victims, and the destruction of the lives of their families and many others.
Young boys who had their entire sense of self worth shattered. Young boys who grew into troubled teenagers and ruined men, who chose death as the only solution to silence the shrieking inner demons that had run rampant through their tormented minds since childhood.
“It would have been no different if he’d just taken a gun and shot him … it just took longer,” said Peter Jurd, referencing his abused brother Damian, who committed suicide at the age of 28. “He never got over the feeling of not being good enough.”
Cardinal George Pell has defended the way the Catholic Church has handled such cases and has cited the Towards Healing response set up to help victims. But it’s going to take more than a response group to save Clare Ann Jurd, Damian’s 19-year-old daughter.
Now battling depression, Clare Ann and her brother have lived with their grandparents since their father’s tragic suicide.‘I go to sleep at night and think what he would be like if this didn’t happen to him,” she told Four Corners. “What I would be like if this didn’t happen to him.”
Watching this beautiful young woman describe the sadness and pain she endures because of the abuse her father shouldn’t have suffered—let alone at the hands of a priest—reduced me to floods of tears. The truly devastating outcome of the crimes committed by these heinous child sex offenders was suddenly so transparent: like a falling pack of dominoes, the impact becomes generational.
It is difficult to admit that my feelings towards the Catholic Church have been somewhat naive, based in cosy childhood sentiments that aren’t a reflection of its present values. I have always regarded my religion to be upheld by the values of compassion and morality. Yet its governing body is one that has exposed itself to be ignorant and weak, still terrified to bring the perpetrators to justice because it will expose the ugliness and shame of their denial.
Why would any Australian want to support such an organisation? I know I don’t.
I commend Four Corners for bringing this horrific situation to light, and applaud the victims and their families who summoned all their courage to speak up about their immensely painful plight.
Sarah Grant is the features editor at WHO magazine. In her spare time she likes to delve into topics that aren’t quite as glossy as the world of celebrity.
How would you desribe your relationship with religion? If you follow a particular faith, are there parts of it you struggle with or question?