An Australian bishop has called on victims of sexual abuse to come forward to the authorities after a former religious brother plead guilty to four counts of indecent assault against a minor in December.
Philip Slattery, who had been a Marist brother, was principal of Mary Immaculate Catholic Parish Primary School in the Sydney suburb, Eagle Vale.
“I wish to assure all that the diocese, including Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong and our Catholic schools, are totally committed to the protection of children and young people above all else, and is remaining transparent and open in our communications to ensure that the safety of children and young people remains paramount,’’ said Bishop Peter Ingham of the Diocese of Wollongong.
He apologized to the former pupils of the school “unreservedly” in a statement released Feb. 5, and said the victims had “shown great courage and resilience in speaking the truth and seeking justice.”
“Since becoming aware of the conviction, the Diocese has been in contact with them to offer our support. The trauma and pain endured by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their families is real and is acknowledged,” Ingham said. “I further offer a heartfelt apology to all those who have suffered abuse by any person who was associated with the Diocese of Wollongong.”
He said anyone who has suffered abuse should come forward, and added the diocese was “totally committed to the protection of children and young people above all else,” and that any allegation of abuse would be handled “with sensitivity and determination.”
Ingham, aged 77, is preparing for his successor, Brian Mascord, to be installed on Feb. 22.
When his retirement was announced, Ingman was remembered for being a bishop who had worked with victims of sexual abuse.
“He has been one of the most proactive bishops of our time. He has brought healing to victims of abuse,” said Father Ron Peters.
“And appearing at the Royal Commission he really put the best foot forward for the Church in ensuring everyone was treated with dignity. He is also a stickler for protocols to protect the young and the elderly,” the priest told the Illawarra Mercury in December.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – established in 2013 to investigate how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organizations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse – in August 2017 issued its report on criminal justice, including 85 recommendations for new legal standards.
“One of the great lessons of the Royal Commission has been the ongoing pain and suffering that child sexual abuse brings upon, not just the victims and survivors themselves, but also their families and friends. It has also taught us a great deal about how to empower victims, survivors and their families to determine their own ongoing justice and support,” Ingham wrote in a Dec. 15, 2017, letter to his diocese.
Earlier in 2017, Australian Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Economy, returned to Victoria to face several charges of historical sexual abuse.
The ongoing revelations in Australia about the sexual abuse of children by clergy has caused a crisis in the Church. Among its recommendations, the royal commission said Catholic priests should be required to violate the seal of confession if they hear about the sexual abuse of children.
In October, Australian Church leaders traveled to Rome to meet with Vatican authorities “for a wide-ranging discussion concerning the situation of the Catholic Church in Australia at this time.”