please be aware that the content of the public hearings can be distressing for viewers.
The evidence in the first stage of this hearing will include the personal stories of a number of survivors. That evidence will describe the gross violations of individuals by ordained members of the Catholic Church. As you are aware, the Royal Commission has revealed many shocking stories of the betrayal of children. As we listen to the evidence in this hearing we should all reflect on the impact for those who have suffered in the Ballarat region, and the thousands of others who have suffered throughout Australia.
In this hearing there will be evidence from perpetrators. The evidence will not be directly concerned with the circumstances of their offences. That has already been dealt with by the Courts. However, the evidence has an important part to play in the Royal Commission coming to understand both why ordained members of the Catholic Church became abusers and how the Church responded to allegations of their abuse. It will be particularly important in helping the community to learn of the knowledge that people in authority in the Church had of the abuse and will assist us to assess the response of those in charge.
I appreciate that the evidence of perpetrators may be confronting for some people, in particular survivors. However without the evidence of perpetrators, the true story of the response of the Church in Ballarat may never be completely revealed. Mindful of the possible impact of the hearing, the Commission staff have been careful to organise, in cooperation with local services, support for any person who may need it during the hearing.
From my discussions and those of Commission staff with members of the community, I am aware that there may be different and strongly held views about the conduct of ordained people and the appropriateness of the response of leaders of the Church in the Ballarat Diocese.
Many want this public hearing. There are others who doubt the need for a public hearing. Some may not want the story told. Unless the truth is revealed and known publicly the prospect of effective healing for survivors and institutions is diminished. When he recently visited Sri Lanka Pope Francis said of the suffering brought by civil war in that country
“the process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake
of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of
promoting justice, healing, and unity”
The Pope’s words have relevance to the task we are about to undertake in this hearing.¨