Last night, Petersham church opened its doors and had a public explanation with a panel speaking into this church’s response to the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Sydney churches. Tough gig. The minister at Petersham, Antony Barraclough, wanted to bring light to this dark area and not continue to sweep the church’s involvement in these shameful activities under the carpet.
The panel consisted of Leanne Slade, who juggles the hats of both women’s worker at Petersham church and legal worker in the Professional Standards Unit (PSU) of the Sydney Anglican Diocese, Marg Fuller, a contact person from the Sydney Anglican Diocese Abuse Report Line, Peter Bolt, who has lectured at Moore College for over twenty years and spoke from a theological perspective.
Together, the panel discussed the abuse that has happened in churches in the past, how we are addressing these past sins, and action that we are taking to prevent further abuse.
There was an interesting discussion on forgiveness. Peter acknowledged that churches could be too quick to demand victims to forgive perpetrators without acknowledging the utter devastation that has been wrecked upon victims lives by abuse. Marg said that from her experience, victims who carried resentment around were far more distraught and burdened by the abuse; that it was actually as if the perpetrator was continuing to abuse them by maintaining this powerful hold on their lives.
One case was spoken of where a perpetrator had not demonstrated genuine repentance or subsequent change in behaviour. It was simply unsafe for him to enter church grounds again, and the PSU had put clear safety measures in place. It was suggested in cases like these that the gospel was still powerful but perhaps a better setting would be to take the gospel to him with a few members of the congregation rather than allow him to enter church grounds.
One of the take-home messages was that Jesus came to bring life to the full and that those who rob others of their safety through abuse will have to answer to Jesus as judge.
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