BALLARAT Catholic diocese vicar-general Father Justin Driscoll firmly believes in the “Francis Effect”.
Since the election of Pope Francis in March 2013, Fr Driscoll believes people are finding their “humility to listen”.
So the Ballarat Diocese Foundation has joined forces with world-renowned sexual abuse expert Professor Caroline Taylor to host a community gathering on child sexual abuse.
It will be held at St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall at 7pm today.
Fr Driscoll and Professor Taylor said it was aimed at creating community awareness and understanding of abuse and its impact on victims.
Professor Taylor stressed the gathering was not just about clergy sexual abuse, but all child sexual abuse.
“The community is at a stage where they are much more open. They are willing to hear things they were once not open to hear,” Professor Taylor said.
She said a recent similar forum in Warrnambool showed people really wanted to move forward on the issue.
“Knowledge and awareness gives us the impetus to go forward. We want to arm people with much more informed knowledge.”
She said the forum would dispel some myths and stereotypes and draw out a more nuanced understanding of sexual violence.
“The impact is not just people traumatised by the abuse, but also by the response of others and not being able to speak.”
Professor Taylor said she saw the forum as not just an event, but a process.
“If you generate awareness, you’re helping to give life to something.”
Fr Driscoll said there was a “great openness” to listen at this time.
“The state government inquiry and the royal commission have been confronting in many ways, but we are grateful for them.
“This community gathering gives us the chance to talk in an informed way.”
Fr Driscoll said the church needed to be open to the expertise offered by people such as Professor Taylor.
“Our capacity to host such a forum is really important.
“We need a cultural conversion in our organisation and we can’t do it ourselves. We need people like Caroline too.”