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The Journey Towards Healing

Last week I attended the National EREA Principals gathering in Canberra. While a number of not so pleasant experiences dotted my three days, there was one very moving and powerful event that occurred. Certainly, the below zero temperatures and the not so inspiring Queensland State of Origin performance were the low lights of the week.

Casting these events into a shadow for me was the moving National Apology that Dr Wayne Tinsey (EREA Executive Director) delivered on behalf of the Christian Brothers, EREA and all EREA Schools. This apology was directed to all the survivors and victims of sexual abuse who suffered specifically at the hands of Christian Brothers, clergy and lay staff in our schools.

Fittingly with the feast of Pentecost approaching, we gathered as an Edmund Rice community to proclaim a message of regret, lament and contrition to say we are sorry. In his Pentecost address in 2016, Pope Francis stated “The Spirit is given to us by God and leads us back to God. The entire work of salvation is one of ‘regeneration’.” On a specially selected site, we gathered on this unique site of devastation and regeneration, the National Arboretum, to gather in brokenness to start a process to re-imagine a more liberated future where not a single life remains abandoned, where every life however broken, is lifted up.

Dr. Wayne Tinsey Executive Director EREA

The apology acknowledges and apologises for the suffering of the victims and survivors of sexual abuse – abuse that has been reported and abuse that remains hidden. Because our schools are places where this abuse occurred, it was fitting that we all joined together in solidarity to take this action. It is our hope that the apology will demonstrate that the victims and survivors of this abuse have been listened to and that we have sought to understand their pain. We hope the essence of the apology captures the victims’ views, thoughts and feelings in the words, actions and symbols. It is hoped that the apology will be an important step in addressing a longstanding omission and start to assist healing pain which is unfathomable.

The fact that we were joined by a number of survivors of abuse at the hands of Christian Brothers, clergy and lay staff of our schools, only added to the occasion. We hope the power of this gathering is now carried forward to realise a deep long lasting commitment to keep the precious young lives that we are fortunate to care for, safe from the insidious tentacles of sexual abuse. Last week was the start of a long journey to re-establishing trust: trust that can only be truly earned through action.

Since its inception in 2007, EREA has made the protection of children from abuse a priority and has committed to ongoing accountability, integrity and due care in its schools. Our commitment to providing a safe, supportive, caring environment for students is reinforced by strong moral and legal obligations which underpin all of EREA’s policies. Here at Ambrose Treacy College our most important commitment is the safety of our students and we have a strong Student Protection Policy and Guidelines in place to frame, guide and direct this commitment. The EREA Student Protection Policy and Guidelines is available on the “College website.”:http://www.atc.qld.edu.au/community/child-protection-policy .
I would like to share with you all Dr Tinsey’s address and apology.

“In this time of Pentecost – a time when the spirit provides us with courage to find a new voice – we, the leaders of Edmund Rice Education Australia, on behalf of our communities offer the following apology.
Today we begin a journey of major change by publicly acknowledging the sexual abuse of students in schools; some dead, some alive, some unknown.
Today we directly acknowledge the scarring harm of sexual abuse as abhorrent, sinful, shameful and disgraceful; and we also acknowledge that whatever was done can never be undone. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge the helplessness, powerlessness, fear, guilt, and shame that has been and remains part of a victim’s life when, as a child they recall feeling no control over their lives and even blamed themselves for what had been done to them. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge the fact that young people in our schools were betrayed in their adolescence where they had every expectation of, and needed, nurturing and protection. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge the anger which our young students have felt, have shown and may still harbour against their abusers and others they feel failed to protect them. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge the sadness, grief and sense of loss felt by victims, especially when the perpetrator was loved and trusted by our young people and their families. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge the alarming statistics of serial sexual abuse, assault and molestation of young people in our schools by Christian Brothers, clergy and lay staff. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge that the pain inflicted and suffered continues to have an ongoing devastation on victims in their adulthood as partners, parents, extended family and leaders in their careers and communities – and that there is no hiding this pain. For this we apologise…
Today we directly acknowledge the unimaginable pain endured by families, friends and loved ones who have been broken by the ingrained lasting trauma, often hidden, of each and every unspeakable criminal indignity and personal violation. For this we apologise…
And finally, most significantly, today is the day we directly acknowledge that there has been a history of denial, secrecy, suppression and diminution in relational to sexual abuse crimes. Barriers have been placed which have hindered redress. Victims have not had a real voice. Rightful acknowledgement has not been given to those crying for justice. We have not spoken or acted as Edmund Rice and the Gospels would have demanded. For this we apologise…
In the knowledge that, to many, the offering of an apology at this time may seem unhelpful, even possibly
adding to the pain in some cases, we offer it sincerely in the hope that it is seen as a significant and necessary step towards healing, reconciliation and ongoing redress. In the true spirit of Pentecost, we pray that Edmund Rice Education Australia has found a new voice in laying stronger foundations for support, re-connection, inclusion and ongoing care for all who have suffered in this way.
I am sorry. We are sorry. We commit to a liberated future.“

Our School Officers – Thank you
Schools today are complex organisations that rely on many people coming together with a shared vision and understanding to provide an environment and a culture that hopefully brings out the best in all our students. Whilst it is easy to understand and recognise the contributions that teachers make in students’ lives, I am also very aware of the contributions that so many of our staff who are not teachers per se, make to ensure that we are the College we aspire to be. Here at ATC we have staff who work tirelessly at our front desk, in administration, in classrooms supporting students with their learning, in our libraries, in our tuckshop, in our grounds, in our music and sporting programs – in fact, there are no areas of College life where our non-teaching staff don’t make a very real and significant contribution to our community.

This Wednesday 7 June is a day to remember the contributions that school officers make in our schools. It certainly is a timely reminder to all teachers to be thankful for the wonderful contribution that our non-teaching staff make both to the students and the staff. I know in my role I am very aware of the support I receive both professionally and personally from the staff who work with me in the College administration office. I know that all our staff both teaching and non-teaching staff understand that important partnership we all share with each other to deliver the kind of education we want and to be the kind of community we aspire to be.

I am confident in saying that I know of no other school who is fortunate to have a staff of the quality of Ambrose Treacy College. I am very fortunate to be in a position where numerous people, both from within our community and outside our community, regularly compliment me on the quality of our staff. The most common thread in these compliments is that they seem to genuinely care either about their sons or meeting their needs when they are seeking help or information. I would like to acknowledge the great work that our non-teaching staff do at the College and assure them that their contributions are not going unnoticed by the lucky recipients of their care and support.

With best wishes,
Michael Senior