Francis Sullivan, the former head of the Catholic church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, says the removal of ribbons commemorating abuse survivors from St Mary’s Cathedral appears designed to prevent the scandal from being “associated with Cardinal [George] Pell” in the days leading up to his funeral.
Survivors and their supporters are furious that the church is continually removing ribbons they have tied to the fence surrounding Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral before the requiem mass planned for Pell on Thursday.
The ribbons are intended to give voice to clergy abuse survivors who were often rendered voiceless for decades.
Sullivan, who led the church’s response to the child abuse royal commission, said the ribbons’ removal appeared to be designed to disassociate Pell from the clergy abuse scandal ahead of Thursday’s funeral.
“It does come down to the administrators of [each building] so, by the sounds of things, they’re taking a view that they’re not going to permit ribbons on the fences,” he told Guardian Australia. “You can only assume that it’s because they don’t want the scandal associated with Cardinal Pell. That’s the only way you can read it, in my mind.”
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He said the church should be encouraging the survivor community to remember the crisis.
“I think, given the history of the atrocious way in which the Catholic church has handled the reality of child sexual abuse, that occasions when the broader survivor community wants that reality to be remembered, should be encouraged,” he said.
Paul Auchettl, an abuse survivor from Ballarat, flew to Sydney on the weekend to tie ribbons at St Mary’s. Church staff have repeatedly removed them, he says.
“We are now back at the cathedral and the ribbons have been taken down a third time,” Auchettl said on Monday. “We keep putting them back.”
The Guardian has repeatedly approached the Sydney archdiocese, asking why the ribbons are being removed. No response has been received.
Sullivan said the silence was typical of the church’s response when faced with questions about the abuse scandal.
“Here we go again,” he said. “When it comes to child sexual abuse, the Catholic church has demonstrated propensity to either go silent or give limited information or to try minimise the impact.”
Meanwhile, also on Thursday, the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform will hold a gathering in support of Pope Francis’s commitment to a more inclusive church and less autocratic and patriarchal leadership.
Kevin Triston, an ACCCR project officer, said on Monday that the timing of the event, on the same day as Pell’s funeral, was coincidental, but that it set up an “interesting contrast between celebrating the life of a man who was very determined to take the church back to where it was 100 years ago, [and] a gathering of people who want to see the church moving in a way that’s proving productive for its members”. .
LGBTQ+ protesters are also planning a protest outside St Mary’s on Thursday to denounce Pell’s strident long-held opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.
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