Catholic religious women and men gathered in their local communities on December 2, the First Sunday of Advent and beginning of the new Church year, to mark the National Day of Sorrow and Promise.
The day, which was a collective response from Catholic religious orders across the country, emerged to acknowledge survivors of abuse within the Catholic Church and all those who have been hurt by that abuse. Underpinning this, is a clear promise for a better, safer future.
“Action is happening. The process is already under way to reform the Church’s practices to ensure that safeguarding is integral in all that we do as part of our ministry and outreach in the community. This at the heart of our mission,” said Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj, President of Catholic Religious Australia.
While this reform is underway, Sr Monica is clear that “We must continue to hold and honour those who spoke their stories to break the silence.”
Among those marking the day were the members of the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, their staff and partners in ministry, who gathered at their Congregation Centre to participate in the National Day of Sorrow and Promise.
The liturgy, which included the testimony of survivors and their family members, acknowledged the tragedy of Institutional child sexual abuse, its devastating and life-long effects on survivors and their family and friends, and was underpinned by a promise to ensure such crimes can never happen again, and that the safety of all children and vulnerable adults under the care of the Catholic Church, Catholic Religious Congregations and out ministries, is ensured.
The Liturgy concluded with the following Statement of Promise, made by all Sisters of Mercy who were present or who participated in smaller gatherings in local communities:
As Catholic Religious of Australia, we are stirred by sorrow for the failings of the past. We encounter the depth of pain endured within our midst.
WE promise to listen to and support those who have been harmed by abuse
WE promise to act to prevent abuse, respond with compassion and justice and put the protection of children and the vulnerable at the heart of all our ministries
WE promise to support all those walking courageously with the abused and those working fearlessly for the prevention of abuse
WE promise to work tirelessly and humbly to build a culture in our Church which is loving and answerable to the wider community
WE promise to partner with those who have been abused, with governments, civil agencies and society at large to continue to learn and work towards a safer, more respectful and accountable Church
WE promise to be people of action, to embed prevention and safeguarding practices and governance reforms throughout our Church
WE promise to remember and to be forever changed
In Melbourne, the Carmelites held a special liturgy for the National Day of Sorrow and Promise in the Whitefriars College Chapel, Donvale.
Fr Paul Cahill, Prior Provincial of the Carmelites in Australia & Timor-Leste was the celebrant. Other local communities of Carmelites also commemorated the day.
“In addition to apologising again for the tragedy of abuse, the purpose of the day was also to acknowledge those who work in the interests of persons harmed by abuse and those who work for the safety of the vulnerable,” an article on the Carmelites website says.
“The Carmelites in Australia & Timor-Leste recently launched their Safeguarding Policies and Procedures at their recent Provincial Assembly. These are documents are being studied and reviewed in the local Carmelite Communities, prior to their formal adoption at the Provincial Chapter in 2019.
“Our commitment to safeguarding is founded on our faith in Jesus Christ who teaches the fundamental sanctity of each human person. Safeguarding must now and always be at the heart of all that we do as part of our ministry and outreach in the community.”
Also among those taking part in the day were the NSW Sisters of St Joseph, who gathered in four centres across the State.
“Other Sisters in rural areas also shared in the prayer having received it via email with the weekly Newsletter,” says Regional Leader, Sr Mary Ellen O’Donoghue rsj.
“Many Sisters expressed their deep appreciation for the opportunity to come together to acknowledge, pray and affirm our resolve to move forward in hope. We are deeply grateful to the CRA Executive for this initiative and mindful of those who organised and prepared the liturgy.”