THE priest of Ararat's Catholic parish has attracted nationwide attention for his words at Sunday's mass, addressing the conviction of Cardinal George Pell.
In an address posted to social media on Saturday, Father Andrew Hayes spoke of his own experience with sexual abuse in the Catholic church. He also praised victims who had "stared down the church and demanded change".
"My classmates were abused. My friends. I see myself as less the priest and more the child in this. I wasn’t sexually abused, but I went to school in long pants so people couldn’t see the stripes on my legs from the flogging at home," he said in the post to Facebook.
"Today, I think I need to be the priest in this mess. To stand beside my brother priests, including George Pell, and to apologise to you for the mess that my brother priests have imposed on you."
Speaking on Monday, Father Hayes said he chose his words carefully given it was a "horrible and significant" time for the Church.
"There were people there who have family members that are victims of clergy abuse," Fr Hayes said.
"I know there were people from Ararat who came to hear what I was going to say when they saw the post. So I wouldn't say I was preaching to the converted."
Fr Hayes said the congregation was largely supportive of his stand once mass ended.
"I had acknowledged the hurt people are feeling," he said.
"There are perhaps a couple of people that don't want to hear criticism of the church, some not wanting believe the cardinal committed these crimes, but largely there is tremendous hurt, and hopefully it's comforting for people to hear the priest gets it too."
Fr Hayes also said he accepted the guilty verdict handed down to Cardinal Pell, as he had promised to when charges were first laid.
"I accept that he is, and if after appeal he is still guilty then I will accept that too. It's a really difficult area because you also have the victims who are testifying he has abused them. So I think it's rude and offensive to say you don't believe them," he said.
At Sunday's mass Ararat parishioners sent off their submissions to the Plenary Council 2020 - a planned gathering of all bishops in Australia to consider the future of the Catholic Church.
Fr Hayes said this would be the Church's major opportunity to follow their words with actions and bring real change to the institution.
"There will absolutely be people calling for significant change," he said.
"The bit that I said about the need to take seriously the voice of women and children, there would be huge numbers of people who would be in agreement with that; that the church is run largely by the priests at a global level.
"In our Ararat parish for example, there are women sitting on the parish council who make recommendations to me, but then I decide, that's how the structure of it works.
"But we're much more aware now of needing to hear and take seriously the voices of people. Priests now who don't follow the advice of their local committee are out of step with the expectations of the church, but we need to be better at that, and extend that."
- If you have experienced child abuse in an institutional context you can contact our toll-free Child Wise Helpline from Monday-Sunday, 9am-5pm AEST.
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