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JOANNE McCARTHY: No, we’re not all OK

ON Sunday morning a Hunter man disclosed for the first time to his wife of 45 years that he had been sexually abused by a Marist Brother as a child.
Nanjing Night Net

Last week another Hunter man told workmates he’d been sexually abused by an uncle after they discussed a Herald article about a paedophile priest.

A woman rang me on Saturday night to say she’d been locked in a priest’s room in 1986 and sexually assaulted. She was 43, married and had gone to the priest for help.

The diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has already paid compensation to another woman victim of that priest who is dead. The woman who rang me didn’t know that, because it’s been one of the church’s dark secrets. She had only ever told one other person, a priest, and it must be noted that he has repeatedly encouraged her to seek help.

She rang me again on Sunday night after the same awful images stopped her from sleeping the night before. It was of a mouse trapped in a cage with a snake. The terrified mouse ran around the cage but the snake took its time, she said.

It didn’t have to rush. It knew the mouse was trapped.

I received many emails on Saturday after the Herald printed a list of clergy and Catholic teachers who have abused children over 60 years.

I received many more after Sunday’s meeting in Newcastle, hosted by the newspaper, supporting victims of child sexual abuse and their families who want a royal commission.

I spoke on Sunday with many people and the message was the same. What we witnessed at Newcastle Panthers was people coming together for a common cause and talking about a difficult issue. Strangers cared enough to spend a few hours on a lovely Sunday to find out for themselves why people are talking about the need for a royal commission.

The phone calls and emails were about how media reports helped people talk to their families and friends about child sexual abuse, which is the whole point.

For too many years, for too many people, these secrets have damaged relationships. A child who has suffered sexual abuse feels isolated and alone, and that shapes the adult they become. Their trust in the world around them is shattered, and they’re often overwhelmed by powerlessness.

Politicians and churches love to talk about families. They love to tell us how families should live and operate, and what constitutes a family.

If politicians other than Greens MP David Shoebridge, and Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper, had been at Sunday’s meeting they would have heard, first hand, the impact of too many secrets on Hunter families. They could have talked with people, as hundreds did.

If clergy representatives other than priest Geoff Mulhearn had been there, they could have done the same, rather than preaching about how “good priests are hurting”.

I’m sure they are, but we’ve got enough victims in this crisis already. Could I suggest good priests should be challenging their own hierarchy from within. Or as good Catholics Lou Pirona and Tom Creigh prefer to say, the good priests should “man up”.

Last week there was publicity about “Are you OK?” day, on which people were encouraged to ask each other how they were going, and talk a little further if the answer wasn’t positive. It comes after years of campaigns about depression and the devastating impact it can have.

What we saw on Sunday was a collective expression of “Are you OK?”, and the church and government were notable absentees, unwilling to communicate.

What is clear is that a lot of people are not OK because of child sexual abuse, and there is no doubt it goes beyond the Catholic church.

What the government is missing here is the perception that it’s singing from the same song sheet as the church – and if you read comments from both, that’s not drawing too long a bow.

In refusing to engage in community discussion the government runs the risk of looking like it’s one powerful institution that won’t tolerate outspoken voices on this subject, lining up with another. And one of those powerful institutions has irrefutably committed crimes against children.

Child abuse is about secrets, silences and darkness. What we’re experiencing in the Hunter is simply a little light.

Help shine the light on this issue. Download and printthis petition, gather as many signatures as you can, and post it back to The Herald. We will help your voice be heard.

The Newcastle Herald’s campaign for a royal commission into church sex abuse.