The very visible sign of Ballarat’s child sexual abuse history – the fluttering ribbons of the Loud Fence of St Patrick’s Cathedral – have been removed and placed in a reflection garden in the church grounds.
On Sunday, about 60 parishioners removed the hundreds of ribbons that survivors had placed there from the early days of the Royal Commission hearings in to child sexual abuse in the Ballarat diocese.
The removal of the ribbons drew mixed reactions from survivors and families, as did their placement in a glass-topped chest.
A lack of consultation about the process and timing of the ribbon removal, just days after the Royal Commission in to Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final recommendations, also angered many.
Sexual abuse survivor Phil Nagle said the ribbons belonged on the fence, and said survivors would return and replace the ribbons.
“The ribbons are our voice and a voice for all the people who can’t stand up and talk,” he said.
“I think you will find this week, if there’s no proper consultation the ribbons will keep coming back.”
Ballarat Catholic Diocese Vicar-General Justin Driscoll had invited survivors, parishioners and community members to take their ribbons home or place them in a custom-made box before or during the opening of the reflective garden.
“I acknowledge it’s painful for them to be taken down, and to be taken down at what for some is seen as an insensitive time and, within the survivor community like within the church, there is no single voice. There are some who can see it’s time and some who would like them to stay.”
“People have come and removed ribbons they put on themselves because the ribbons had such a personal connection,” Fr Driscoll said.
The box, which has a clear top to allow viewing of the ribbons, is set in the garden and is visible from the street. A gate on Lyons St, which has been closed for as long as anyone can remember, has also been opened to the garden and as a symbol of the church seeking a new path and trying to be as open as it can.
Mr Nagle said there had been no consultation about parishioners taking down all the ribbons in the original discussion he had with Fr Driscoll.
And he said the survivors who should have been consulted about the gardens, weren’t.
“They are quite upset and it’s not really a garden at all. The Vicar-General could have done so much to make it an appropriate place. The gesture of opening the gate in Lyons St is a great gesture, but once you walk in there it’s a corner, a couple of seats and a box,” Mr Nagle said.
“Survivors feel like they want to get rid of us and the ribbons in time for Christmas.”
On LoudFence’s Facebook page, there was anger at the removal of the ribbons.
“The more I think about it , the stronger I feel that if anything, more ribbons should go on! The journey now needs to begin,” one woman wrote.