In an historic first, Edmund Rice Education Australia has made an official apology on behalf of its schools to victims of sexual abuse.
The apology was delivered at the EREA national principle’s conference in Canberra on Thursday, which featured representatives from more than 50 schools from across the country as well as sexual abuse survivors.
St Patrick’s College headmaster John Crowley joined Ballarat sexual abuse survivors Andrew Collins and Peter Blenkiron on the trip to the nation’s capital for the historic occasion.
Speaking at the event, Mr Crowley said the apology forced everyone involved in Catholic education to “acknowledge openly and honestly the full extent of what has happened”.
“Over the past two years there have been times of silence from senior leaders in Catholic education in response to the work of the Royal Commission,” Mr Crowley said.
“Having spent hundreds of hours in conversation with victims and survivors over the past two years, I know we are at a crossroads and the credibility of our mission as a Church is in question. Whether the flicker of hope rekindles and remains alight is up to us.
“ I wonder the impact we would have if we accompanied survivors to meetings with lawyers, if we galvanized our school community to provide practical support and assistance to those wounded by the Church and for whom everyday life is a constant struggle, if we lobbied our politicians and media to ensure an appropriate redress scheme is established.
“If we picked up the phone and called. Actions like these require radical courage to chart a course of action where trust replaces suspicion. Where healing is even a possibility.”
All schools under the EREA banner will now be required to conduct their own formal apologies, with an event set to be held by St Pat’s on June 27.
Mr Blenkiron said while the formal apology “was not the answer to everything”, it was an important step in helping to protect children while also assisting survivors of abuse.
He said the most critical factor would be the actions which are now taken to help survivors and put safeguards in place to ensure such crimes did not occur in the future.
“It’s one thing to have awareness and say sorry, but sorry must be backed up with action,” Mr Blenkiron said.
“But if you’ve got a problem the first thing you need to do is acknowledge it.
“It’s been a bloody long haul but the actions now are starting to match up with the words.
“Some survivors will never be able to go back to those schools because it’s just too raw, but it’s important they know people are there for them.”
The apology, which was delivered by EREA executive director Dr Wayne Tinsey, was crafted with the assistance of survivors including those from Ballarat.
Dr Tinsey said he hoped the national apology, which was made on behalf of more than 50 schools across the country, would demonstrate survivors had been listened to.
“Today has been the most significant day in the history of the Edmund Rice Education Australia,” Dr Tinsey said. “As today’s stewards of our values, we acknowledge this is part of a destructive and shameful reality in our national history and we are totally committed to it never happening again.”