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Healing and Support Services for those abused in the Diocese

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Commitment of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

In multiple forums, on multiple occasions over the period of Bishop Wright’s episcopacy, he has, on behalf of the whole Diocese, offered profound apologies for failing to protect the innocence of too many children and a commitment to provide healing and support services to those affected by child sexual abuse.

Bishop Wright has restated the Diocese’s commitment to committed within the Diocese:

As Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, I have listened to people’s agonising stories of how they were abused as children by clergy, religious, teachers and others in the church. For those children, their abuse often caused fear, confusion and shame that changed who they were and who they might have become. Their anguish was compounded when they were not believed and even punished for telling the truth. And so, through no fault of their own, they were left with a great hurt at the centre of their being that they have had to carry through life. Some have managed to bear the hurt, even if they are never free of it, but for others it was too much to bear and they took their own lives. To the people who were those children and to those close to them, a formal apology by the church can never really be adequate. I understand that, but still it needs to be said over and over: the Diocese apologises for our failure to protect you, we apologise for the crimes that people working in the Diocese inflicted on you. We are so, so sorry that our Diocese let these things happen to you.

As a diocese, we also continue our attempts to make what amends we can, to support those who were abused and their families, and to ensure that the measures in place to keep children safe in our parishes, schools and communities are kept to the highest standards.

Bishop Bill Wright, 15 September 2017

Healing and Support (Zimmerman Service) is the operational expression of the Diocese’s pastoral response to those who have been adversely affected by historic child sexual abuse.

The individual journey of a person affected by abuse is unique; assumptions cannot be made about where a person might be on their journey or about their feelings regarding what has happened to them, the offender or the church. Each person comes to Healing and Support in unique circumstances and as such the support offered needs to be tailored to meet their unique needs, while accepting that their wishes may fluctuate from time to time. 

The individual is supported to make their own choices and decisions about the direction they wish to take and how much involvement or participation they want from Healing and Support. For the purposes of the following discussion, a person who has chosen to work with Healing and Support will be referred to as a “client” of Healing and Support.

Eligibility

People are welcome to access Healing and Support the person needs to have suffered sexual abuse by a person who was a “diocesan worker” at the time of the alleged abuse.

“Diocesan worker” is a catch-all phrase referring to any persons acting on behalf of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, including:

  • employees
  • volunteers
  • contractors
  • clergy incardinated to the Diocese or who granted faculties to minister in the Diocese
  • religious acting as agents of the Diocese.

The “Catholic Church in Australia” is a large and complex set of entities. Healing and Support will assist a survivor of abuse committed by a “worker” from another Catholic entity, and make arrangements with the relevant entity to also provide help to the survivor.

Healing and Support also works with the immediate relations of the person who was abused, including:

  • parents
  • siblings
  • spouses and partners
  • offspring.

There is no “burden of proof” placed on people to access Healing and Support. The brief of Healing and Support is not to investigate or to “test” allegations but simply to welcome, support and accept, at face value, the person who presents. Some of the people who have and are working with Healing and Support have not fully disclosed their abuse and are unlikely to ever make a formal statement to Police or church authorities. Consequently, their abuse is never likely to be investigated. A person will receive services on the strength of their word, that they or an immediate relation had been sexually abused in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Supports offered

Recovery from childhood trauma can take a long time, and some never fully recover. It is therefore necessary to have access to services that are open-ended, where no time limit is imposed and where the support to those affected by child sexual abuse continues for as long as necessary. Healing and Support offers an “open-ended” model of support that is there for as long as the person wants it.  Because the support offered to individuals is unique and will differ from person to person, Healing and Support presents as being “atypical” from traditional services. 

Child sexual abuse has a ripple effect that can last for many years and affect those close to the individual who was abused. Disclosing abuse may provide some sense of relief for the individuals who suffered the abuse, but it may also initiate a crisis for other family members and loved ones who had been unaware of their loved one’s personal trauma.

Other family members and loved ones may require assistance in dealing with their own reactions.  Assisting family members and other supporters often means increasing their capacities and further enabling them to continue to provide help to those directly affected, which consequently enhances their recovery. Providing support to the immediate relations of a survivor allows for a more effective holistic support service. This support may include facilitation of counselling, linking people into groups or one-on-one interaction with someone from a similar situation.

Healing and Support (Zimmerman Service) offers supported and targeted referrals to psychologists/social workers/counsellors who are registered with a professional body or are approved by the Victims Services NSW Government. Healing and Support ensures the practitioner is experienced and/or has had training in working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse and is trauma informed.

Healing and Support maintains a list of counsellors who have received positive feedback. The “preferred provider” list is continually updated. Healing and Support offers clients a choice of having a referral made on their behalf and/or making the initial appointment for them with their consent.

Where there are options, Healing and Support explores with the client their preferences for a male or a female practitioner, preference of location (for example, many clients prefer to see someone outside the area in which they live), and the psychologist/counsellor’s therapeutic milieu. 

Healing and Support contacts the client after their first session to ascertain if they felt comfortable with the choice of practitioner and would be willing to make subsequent appointments. If this is not the case, Healing and Support offers to explore the option of referral to another practitioner.

In accordance with diocesan policy, Healing and Support (Zimmerman Service) will report any criminal matter to the relevant Police. Healing and Support will assist those who choose to pursue their right for justice. 

It is the client’s right to choose whether they pursue their right for justice against the person or persons who abused them. Healing and Support also receives a number of referrals from NSW Police, usually shortly after the individual has reported their abuse. As such, Healing and Support may be involved from the beginning to the end of the criminal justice process from investigation to sentencing (if a guilty verdict is given).

The support offered by Healing and Support includes:

  • supporting the person in making a statement to the police
  • preparation and support for the client and any family members in giving evidence at court
  • assistance in writing impact statements for sentencing hearings
  • liaising between the client and the police and the office of public prosecution during court proceedings. 

Healing and Support (Zimmerman Service) facilitates group work and networking with others. 

Some of the main effects of trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others.  Recovery can be promoted by empowerment and creation of new connections through which a person gains autonomy and learns to trust. 

Healing and Support runs groups to facilitate new connections, and provides opportunities for clients to join in established groups or meet other clients and individuals dealing with the same challenges.

Some clients choose meditation, yoga or mindfulness, which Healing and Support can facilitate.

Healing and Support also offers financial assistance for clients to attend groups run by other organisations, including:

CAN (Clergy Abused Network) is a local support group for survivors and their families who have been affected by abuse within a religious setting. It convenes monthly gatherings for support and information.
The CAN Caseworker (Liz Studdert) can be contacted by phone on:
P:   02 49230644
M:  0408 515 149

SAMSN (Survivors and Mates Support Network) helps men coping with the effects of childhood sexual abuse with psychologist-led, facilitated peer-support groups. SAMSN is based in Sydney but facilitates groups in regional areas including Newcastle:
www.samsn.org.au
P:   02 8355 3711
E:   support@samsn.org.au

Healing and Support (Zimmerman Service) acts as the person’s advocate and being there for the part of their journey they choose to share.

Healing and Support’s advocacy is at the client’s discretion and includes:

  • supporting the client address outstanding issues with external authorities and support agencies, for example, Department of Housing, Centrelink, Family and Community Services
  • assisting the client request special consideration in relation to provision of services from the Diocese related to the client’s family
  • supporting the client’s claim for redress, either through Towards Healing, directly with the Diocese or through the National Redress Scheme
  • assisting the client seek an ex-gratia payment from the Diocese to meet acute, or unique circumstances
  • supporting the client address criminal charges brought against them.

Healing and Support recognises that for some, abuse by church personnel may have an especially traumatic impact on the individual’s spirituality, deeply affecting their inherent trust of the church.  In the most severe circumstances, individuals have described being sexually abused as a child by a priest, as being sexually abused by God; fracturing their relationship with the presence of God within themselves and their lives.

As with other types of healing, spiritual healing is a complex and unique journey for each person.   Consequently, Healing and Support endeavours to develop individualised approaches to meet individual needs.

Spiritual healing support can include:

  • arranging meetings with the Bishop or a priest as requested
  • accessing resources such as books and articles on spiritual healing
  • organising support groups to explore the way in which abuse of themselves or of their partner, child or sibling has impacted on their faith and/or spiritual being
  • facilitating attendance at spiritual retreats
  • facilitating services of healing, as initiated by the group
  • arranging meetings with a spiritual director.

Projects

The harm caused by the Diocese’s history of child sexual abuse and failure to protect children has affected the individuals and the entire community. On occasions, Healing and Support receives requests to undertake particular actions that have special symbolic significance to a client or group of clients affected by abuse.

Healing and Support was a key facilitator and supporter of Lina’s Project.

The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has a well-known and shameful criminal history of child sexual abuse. Lina, a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of diocesan cleric, conceived a project of atonement the diocese facilitated. The Atonement: Lina’s Project was held at a community gathering of more than 500 people on Friday 15 September 2017 at Newcastle City Hall.

The project wasn’t limited to one day. The Diocese has committed to future actions to ensure the story is not forgotten.

For more information on Lina’s Project:
www.linasproject.com.au/

On the evening of Lina’s Project, Bishop Wright announced a perpetual day of remembrance:

“September 15 will be a perpetual day of remembrance in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. This day will be marked in a variety of ways, in conversation with survivors and the wider community.  The Diocese will also be working with schools within the region, particularly those that were sites of abuse, to plan events of acknowledgement.  As a Diocese, we also continue our attempts to make what amends we can, to support those who were abused and their families, and to ensure the measures in place to keep children safe in our parishes, schools and communities are kept to the highest standards.”

For September 15, 2019, the Diocese developed a duality of response to acknowledge the perpetual day of remembrance, a deeply moving liturgical response and a secular event that featured the audio-visual display at the heart of Lina’s Project.

The Diocese has also supported a couple of Healing and Support clients to work with a professional photographer to produce unique individual pictorial histories of their journeys as survivors. These stories were published in the September 2019 edition of Aurora.

The Diocese also recognises and supports any community or survivor advocacy groups who choose to acknowledge the perpetual day of remembrance in their own way.

As part of Bishop Wright’s commitment to Lina’s Project, he said:

The Project isn’t limited to one day. The Diocese has committed to future actions to see that the story is not forgotten and our determination that it not be repeated never fades … the Diocese will be consulting with survivors and the community to plan a permanent memorial.

The leadership of the Diocese has committed to establishing a permanent memorial in dedication of those affected by historic child abuse committed in the Diocese.

The memorial will be developed in consultation with the survivor community.  It will require time and care to develop a memorial that will stand for all those who were harmed.