THE first Vatican representative to meet with clergy abuse survivors on Ballarat soil has vowed to do all humanly possible to help move the city forward from its “evil” past.
President of the commission for child protection of the Gregorian University Father Hans Zollner vowed to continue to work with survivors deeply affected by the scourge of abuses.
His words comes days after alleged victims of Cardinal George Pell claimed he groped their genitals in the 1970s.
Father Zollner personally backed Cardinal Pell’s March vow to work publicly to assist survivors to make the city a leading healing centre for victims impacted by the Catholic Church's scourge of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.
Father Zollner said Cardinal Pell’s pledge had been personal – not one officially backed by the Vatican, making it unclear if this vow would go ahead without the Cardinal.
He said research into the links between abuse, suicide and poor mental health must be done to help heal this community’s deep wounds.
Father Zollner’s decision to meet with survivors on Saturday at St Patrick’s College – where much abuse occurred – was particularly significant given Cardinal Pell had refused to return to Ballarat during the Royal Commision into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse due to health reasons.
“This has been a place of terrible evil that has happened – it is really important that all what humanly speaking can be done is put in place,” Father Zollner said.
Clergy abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron said the church was a significant contributing factor of much community damage and needed to be involved in the healing process.
“It would be fantastic if nobody had to do any of this – the reality is it (the abuse) did happen,” Mr Blenkiron said.
He said anything that led to community healing and curbed Ballarat’s high premature death rate would be a positive step forward.
Father Zollner did commit to working with Australian church education leaders to bring a specific course, teaching members of the clergy how to identify and report abuse, to the country.
“(It’s about) giving them a voice and giving them a place where they can talk and will be listened to do – empowering the kids,” Father Zollner said.
He said the church was actively taking to pathways to curbing abuse .
“One is the legal response – complaint management and creation of a safe environment,” Father Zollner saod.
Survivor Andrew Collins said the meeting had assured survivors “there was really a lot being done by the church”.
“(At some point) we need to stop looking back and look forward,” Mr Collins said.
“Ballarat needs to show leadership.”
Mr Collins said some schools that had been the least safe were now the safest.