Anglicans welcome National Apology for institutional abuse, make pledges on child safety

Melbourne's bishops made their own apology on the eve of the PM's historic statement.

Archbishop Philip Freier is joined by Bishops Brad Billings, Genieve Blackwell and Kate Prowd in delivering an apology at a Service of Repentance at St Paul's Cathedral on the eve of the 22 October National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Parliament House, Canberra.

By Mark Brolly

October 22 2018 

The Anglican Primate of Australia, Melbourne’s Archbishop Philip Freier, has welcomed the National Apology delivered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison today (22 October), less than a day after Dr Freier and his assistant bishops issued their own apology at a Service of Repentance in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Archbishop Freier said he joined Mr Morrison’s apology to those who suffered sexual abuse in institutions.

The Prime Minister, joined by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, spoke first in the House of Representatives, then delivered the apology at an emotionally-charged gathering of more than 800 abuse survivors, family members and their supporters in the Great Hall of Parliament House (see text of the National Apology below).

Dr Freier said Anglicans were shocked and appalled by many of the revelations uncovered at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, “and it is clear that in many ways and at many times the Church utterly failed victims of abuse”.

“On behalf of the Anglican Church, I apologise unreservedly,” he said. “Child sexual abuse is a betrayal of trust and of everything we purport to stand for as Christians, and can shatter lives permanently. I feel deeply the responsibility of being a voice of healing, rather than further hurt, for survivors of abuse.

“It will be a long and difficult task to rebuild trust, but Anglicans have been working to do so. In Melbourne, along with many other dioceses, we have committed to join the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme and have established an independent professional standards body, Kooyoora, to operate alongside the national scheme where it does not apply.

“At our Service of Repentance at St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday evening, I and bishops of the Diocese of Melbourne made this apology:

‘We apologise to all survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of those whom they trusted and upon whose care they relied, especially within the Anglican Church. We have failed you, we believe you, and we are sorry for the evil done to you and the harm and trauma you have suffered. We will continue to work to put children’s safety at the heart of our ministry, as the child was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. We ask for your forgiveness.’”

The Cathedral hosted a Service of Repentance on the evening of 21 October at which Archbishop Freier was joined by Bishops Brad Billings, Genieve Blackwell and Kate Prowd in reading the above apology. The Archbishop, bishops and clergy joined survivors, their relations and supporters – including some clergy – in lighting candles and placing them in sand bowls near the steps to the Chancel as a sign of hope.

The Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, said in welcoming the congregation that the service might bring up memories of past abuse and hurt and that counsellors were present if needed.

“We have come together tonight on the eve of the National Apology to Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse to offer our brokenness to God, reaffirm our apology to survivors and commit to ensuring the Church is a safe place for children,” Dr Loewe said.

“We repent for the times when as a church we have failed in protecting the most vulnerable, when we have turned a blind eye to abuse or actively colluded with abusers, when we have not acted or acted too late in preventing abuse.

“We are ashamed and repent. We know the greatness of our fault and the judgement that will follow… We believe you and repent.”

Anglicare Australia issued its own statement today to coincide with the National Apology: “Today’s apology to survivors of child sexual abuse is a landmark moment as we deal with an ugly chapter in our history. Anglicare Australia supports this apology, which is long overdue.

“Anglicare Australia’s members have been listening carefully to the experiences of survivors. Their stories have helped shape the Royal Commission, and we have been incorporating the Commission’s findings across our services.

“Our priority is, and will continue to be, ensuring the wellbeing of children and young people who have experienced past abuse is placed well ahead of the wellbeing of institutions. Our services have been putting systems in place to protect children and make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

“Having fully supported the work of the Royal Commission, we fully support this apology. We now hope to see an end to the denial and covering up of these inexcusable acts.

“Such systemic failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our community must never be allowed to happen again.”

Sydney’s Archbishop Glenn Davies said he welcomed the National Apology and recognised and respected the wishes of the survivors to have no leaders of institutions present in Parliament House when the Prime Minister delivered it, nor in the livestreaming of the event at the Sydney Opera House, hosted by the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“In respecting survivors’ wishes, I take the opportunity again to offer an apology on behalf of the Anglican Church in Sydney, where such abuses have happened in the past,” Dr Davies said. “That our Church was complicit in any way in these events, by ignoring them, disbelieving the testimony of survivors, or allowing sex offenders to continue their horrendous conduct in what should have been the safe environs of a church, is itself a matter of deep shame. While I and my immediate two predecessors have issued apologies in the past, let me reiterate my apology to the survivors of child sexual abuse, for our failure to protect them as children. While we have adopted rigorous processes to ensure the safety of children in the present, I recognise that this will not overcome the trauma that accompanies the sins of the past.  

“My fervent prayer is that today’s National Apology will in some measure provide healing for these wounds, raise the national consciousness of the seriousness of child sexual abuse, and enable us as a nation, and individually as citizens, to play our part in protecting and giving voice to the most vulnerable among us, for the benefit of future generations of Australians.”

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the National Apology with a joint statement from the leaders of Catholic Religious Australia, representing more than 130 congregations of Sisters, Brothers and Religious Priests living and working in all states and territories, and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, who welcomed the apology and recommitted “to working with the community to eliminate the scourge of child sexual abuse”.

CRA President Sister Monica Cavanagh, Congregational Leader of St Mary MacKillop’s Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, said: “The National Apology today and the apologies made by institutions during the life of the Royal Commission and since have been an important validation of the courage of survivors of abuse in seeking truth, justice and healing. We think first of them at this time.

“On behalf of the Catholic bishops and religious leaders of Australia, we renew our profound and heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse and to their families, friends and supporters, who have shared their suffering.”

Brisbane's Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the bishops conference, said abuse perpetrated by priests, brothers, sisters and lay people was “an utter betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it should never have happened”.

He said the Catholic Church acknowledged that the apology was for survivors and their supporters, not for representatives of institutions.

Many Catholic dioceses, communities, schools, ministries and agencies were holding local events to mark the National Apology – something Archbishop Coleridge called “a significant moment in our ongoing efforts to make Australia safe for all children and young people”.


The National Apology to the Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse delivered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the Great Hall of Parliament House, 22 October 2018:

“Today the Australian Government and this Parliament, on behalf of all Australians, unreservedly apologises to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. For too many years our eyes and hearts were closed to the truths we were told by children. For too many years governments and institutions refused to acknowledge the darkness that lay within our community. Today we reckon with our past and commit to protect children now and into the future. Today we apologise for the pain, the suffering, and trauma inflicted upon victims and survivors as children, and for its profound and ongoing impact.

“As children, you deserve care and protection. Instead, the very people and institutions entrusted with your care failed you. You suffered appalling physical and mental abuse and endured horrific sexual crimes. As fellow Australians, we apologise for this gross betrayal of trust, and for the fact that organisations with power over children, schools, religious organisations, governments, orphanages, sports and social clubs, charities were left unchecked.

“Today we say we are sorry. Sorry that you were not protected. Sorry that you were not listened to. We are sorry for refusing to trust the words of children, for not believing you. As we say sorry, we also say we believe you. We say what happened was not your fault. We are sorry that perpetrators of abuse were relocated and shielded, rather than held to account. That records have been withheld and destroyed and accountability avoided. We are sorry that the justice and child welfare systems that should have protected you were at times used to perpetrate yet more injustices against you. We apologise for the lifelong impact this abuse has had on your health, your relationships, and your ability to live life to its full potential.

“We also extend this apology to your children, your parents, siblings, families, friends, and supporters. All those who have helped carry the burden of your experiences and help advocate for accountability. We regret that your children's lives have been changed and relationships have been broken by the enduring effects of abuse. We hear the rage, despair, and hurt of parents, whose trust was betrayed along with your own. We admit that we failed to protect the most vulnerable people in our society from those who abused their power. Our community believed people and institutions who did not deserve our trust, instead of believing the children who did. Because of our action, too many victims are no longer with us to hear this apology. They did not live to see the justice they deserved. But today we remember them and we extend this apology along with our sincere sympathies to their families, friends and supporters.

“As we say sorry, we honour the courage of survivors and advocates who spoke out to expose sexual abuse in our institutions, often at great personal cost. Your voices save lives. Your bravery has allowed us to uncover this dark chapter of our national life and understand what we must now do to protect children. We also acknowledge the many victims and survivors who have not spoken of their abuse. Your suffering is no less anguished for your silence.

“Together, as a Government, a Parliament, and a community, we must all play a role in the protection of children from abuse. We must accept our responsibility to keep our eyes and ears open and speak out to keep our children safe. We must listen to children and believe what they tell us. Child sexual abuse is a serious criminal act, and a violation of Australian law. Perpetrators must and will be held to account. Today we commit to taking action to build awareness in our community and strengthen our systems to promote children's safety across Australia. We commit to ensuring that all our institutions are child safe. We know that we must and will do better to protect all children in Australia from abuse and that our actions will give true and practical meaning to this apology. Our children deserve nothing less.”

“We are sorry,” Mr Morrison concluded.