The conviction of Cardinal George Pell on childhood sexual abuse charges has dominated the media this week, rocked the Catholic Church and led to much public anger and confusion.
The moment George Pell left court after the suppression order was lifted. Post continues after.
But the most important consideration at this time must be with the survivors of clerical abuse and their families.
While this conviction will provide a sense of justice and validation for many, the reactions of survivors and their families are likely to be complex and varied and may include anger, validation, sadness, loss and relief.
Ongoing psychological trauma
While not every child who has experienced abuse develops symptoms of mental illness, research shows childhood sexual abuse can have profoundly damaging effects on people’s long-term psychological and social functioning.
People’s self-identity, spirituality and capacity to trust others may be particularly impaired with clerical sexual abuse.
A key factor of psychological trauma among survivors of childhood abuse is not having their experience heard, validated or recognised. This has been the unfortunate experience of many survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy.
Survivors and their families rightfully feel a sense of rage at the abusers, and at the institutions that protected them.
The Catholic Church has only recently begun to recognise the extent and reality of clerical sexual abuse, most evident in their summit on clerical sexual abuse at the Vatican in the recent weeks.
How survivors might feel now
At a time like this, survivors may feel less alone in being a survivor of clerical abuse, or child sexual abuse more generally.
They may also feel pride in the courage of other survivors in having come forward with their experiences. The news may even motivate some survivors to consider reporting their own abuse.
Some survivors will feel a sense of justice. But they may equally feel anger at the length of time this verdict has taken, and rage at the power structures in the Catholic Church that protected these abusers for so long.
For many families who have lost their children to suicide or drug addiction, this result will not replace their pain or loss.
For survivors or families who have not had their abuse or the abuse of their loved ones recognised, or had their abusers convicted, this may stir up further feelings of rage and frustration.