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A Trip Downunder

You may have noticed that the Blog has been quiet for the past few weeks. That is because I just returned from a trip to Australia where I was the guest of Safe Church Ministries. I did training for them in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. I also keynoted their conference in Sydney, “Safe As Churches?” My first visit to Australia was around 15 years ago when I worked with Uniting Church leaders and others to begin to address clergy misconduct and abuse issues. Then 5 years later, I spoke at a national ecumenical conference during which I began to see the early efforts across denominations to put policy and procedures in place to address complaints of clergy misconduct.

You may have noticed that the Blog has been quiet for the past few weeks. That is because I just returned from a trip to Australia where I was the guest of Safe Church Ministries.  I did training for them in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne.  I also keynoted their conference in Sydney, “Safe As Churches?”

My first visit to Australia was around 15 years ago when I worked with Uniting Church leaders and others to begin to address clergy misconduct and abuse issues. Then 5 years later, I spoke at a national ecumenical conference during which I began to see the early efforts across denominations to put policy and procedures in place to address complaints of clergy misconduct.

So I was very pleased to see the progress that church leaders are making. Two things were particularly encouraging. First was the national conference, “Safe As Churches?” This was the sixth gathering of denominational leaders from most of the major denominations and from around the country. The participants were the people currently tasked at the regional and national levels with responding to complaints and doing prevention training with clergy and laity. 180 people attended from a wide variety of traditions: Anglicans, Salvation Army, Uniting Church, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics and many others. They have been meeting each year for networking, training, and fellowship. This means that they have developed an ecumenical peer group to support their work which is a huge resource to those for whom working as the point person on clergy misconduct within a denominational structure can be a lonely job.

I talked about the institutional crisis of our faith institutions and the persistent conflict between an institutional protection agenda and a justice-making agenda. This discussion seemed to resonate with their experiences.

We don’t have any occasion like this in the U.S. By and large, our national and regional denominational leaders working on clergy misconduct don’t have a venue in which to talk to each other or learn from each other’s experiences. This is a problem we in the U.S. need to address.

The second encouraging thing I experienced was the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This is a national, public inquiry into child sexual abuse that was often tolerated and covered up by both religious and public institutions and organizations.  From everything I could see, the Commission is very serious about its task: they want to hear from individual survivors and they are subpoenaing all records of cases of child sexual abuse from every church organization. The government has allocated the necessary resources for a thorough review of the history of child sexual abuse in Australia.

Survivors are coming forward. Most are cautiously optimistic that the truth will finally be told even though it will take years. The question that remains is: what will happen next? What will be the outcome of this investigation?

But we cannot over emphasize the importance of the truth-telling process both for individual survivors and their families but also for institutions and faith communities. For individuals to be heard and for institutions to face their neglect and collusion in the widespread abuse of children that has thrived in the shadows for generations is a major step forward. The particular experience of indigenous people who were put in residential schools and abused must be named and acknowledged if we are to be able to say, “never again.”

So I return home newly challenged in my own work, encouraged by colleagues on the other side of the world, and with renewed commitment to the task. The generous hospitality of the Aussies and the opportunity for some vacation time were bonuses. I was able to go to see Uluru and Kata Juta (Ayers Rock) in central Australia which was a remarkable experience of the outback and indigenous cultures there. And I rode a camel to watch the sun rise over Uluru. It’s a long story but was a grand experience.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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Oz

Posted by Mary E. Hunt at Oct 25, 2013 04:42 PM
Thanks for this good report. These dear friends/colleagues have much to teach us. MEH

Good trip

Posted by Marvin Eckfeldt at Oct 25, 2013 07:06 PM
You had a very productive and amazing trip. Glad you were there to add your professional voice and personal experience. Good you had some vacation time as well. Thanks for the report. Welcome back!

Aussie Trip

Posted by Alsah Bundi at Oct 25, 2013 09:38 PM
Good work!

OZ

Posted by Judy Callahan at Oct 27, 2013 06:30 PM
Marie: Great and hopeful news. The Aussie's are great people. They put their
 money where they know it's the right thing to do. John and I had a wonderful time in the outback and especially at Ayers Rock. Nice to remember it again. I feel that your time has really come. You are making a difference. There is hope everywhere, even in the Vatican Judy

Australian trip

Posted by Marilyn Redlich at Nov 11, 2013 05:42 PM
Marie, your teaching has been so important to us in Australia. Back in 1995, I was trained by a woman who trained with you; and now you have been back with us in person for Safe as Churches. But I was in Seattle at the time, so I missed you! Ironic. Perhaps I can catch up with you & the Institute there.
In gratitude, Marilyn Redlich, Anglican Professional Standards Commission, Australia.