As a survivor of child sexual abuse, abuse that occurred within a religious institution supported by Australian churches, the verdict against Cardinal Pell on historical sex abuse charges — whose media injunction was lifted today — and findings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse don’t make me angry. They make me sad.
They make me sad for the victims, my fellow survivors. Some may feel vindicated by the Royal Commission or the verdict announcement, but I doubt it will make anybody happy. I doubt it will give anybody closure. “Closure” is a word for American therapists with TV shows; it isn’t a word that applies in the real world.
If you’ve lost a loved one you never really get “closure”. You never really stop missing them, you never stop wishing they were there for special occasions, you never stop being reminded of them in small or large ways. If you’re permanently injured by violence or in an accident, you never get “closure”. You never stop feeling that is was unfair, never get your leg back or the use of your eye.
All that happens is that you learn to get used to it. You learn to get a bit of scar tissue over the places that hurt. You learn to cope. But you never get closure.
If you’re survived sexual abuse then you never really get closure. Nobody can give you back your sense of innocent trust. Nobody can stop you having experienced, or remembering, or being able to recall the feeling of your abuse.
You never get “closure”.
It just sort of gets more distant over time, less immediate. You get a bit more scar tissue. You learn to cope.
But you never become happy about it. You don’t excise it from your life. No Royal Commission can give anybody that. There may be justice, but there will never be closure.
I feel sad for people with a deep and genuine religious faith. They’re suffering too, although in a different way, through the crisis of having their trust breached as well. They feel ashamed. And it’s not their fault.
If you aren’t or haven’t been a person of faith you perhaps find it hard to understand how much having a foundational assumption of your life – as basic and as reliable as knowing who your parents are or knowing your own name – hurts when it’s questioned or taken away.
No, put not your trust in earthly things but in the Lord… Yeah, yeah, but earthly things are here and now and how we know what we believe. And people do trust their priests and their churches and their religious leaders. And there’s betrayal and shame today. And it’s not their fault.
I feel sad for the people who can barely disguise their dark joy in today’s findings. They’re easy to recognise; they can’t wait to talk about it, they always hated the Catholic Church or the Sunday School of their childhood or some religious bigot or busybody or organised religion in general and now they have their proof!
No, they don’t. They have proof that when given power human beings fail, they’re flawed, we’re all flawed. Today doesn’t add to intellectual justifications for atheism or provide some sort of argument for the absence of a God. Children have suffered for millennia without the hands of priests.
Does God die only when priests rape children, but lives on when their father does it?
The weaponisation of these terrible revelations for use in some sort of culture war is beneath our dignity. The survivors deserve better than that.
Those who would wield these findings and this verdict against the Church forget, conveniently, that the institution with the second-highest number of instances of abuse is the state. Foster homes, boarding houses, hostels and care facilities… The rape of children in churches no more invalidates the Church than the rape of children in government-run institutions is an argument for anarchism.
I feel sad. We allowed children to be damaged, violated, to experience nightmares beyond imagining. It takes a village to raise a child, yes, but it takes a whole community to abuse one. To look the other way.
We let children be raped and beaten and tortured by those entrusted with their care.
And it only makes me sad.
The Pell verdict might excite the internet and Twitter warriors, notwithstanding his intention to appeal. The Royal Commission will hopefully show us how we can do better. It may have brought some vindication. It will hopefully not be vindictive.
It’s just a day to be sad.
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
Through the awful grace of God.
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