IT was always going to be an emotional afternoon as St Patrick’s College as Headmaster John Crowley, offered a formal apology, on Tuesday, to victims and survivors of sexual abuse, their families, and the wider Ballarat community for the damage done by individuals historically connected with the College. This event also included the official opening of the College’s new Reflective Garden and Monument – Ballarat’s first permanent monument to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
The following is a transcript, in part, of Mr Crowley’s statement: Today, we remain mindful that present with us are some incredibly brave victims and survivors who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of those who had been entrusted with their care. We welcome them, together with their families and friends who have been the pillars of strength for them over many years. Standing here with you are some current staff, students and parents of St Patrick’s College, together with a number of Old Collegians and friends of the College. We gather in these gardens and speak with one voice, committed to walking in solidarity with victims and survivors now and into the future.
We also acknowledge and remember those who suffered abuse, or the effects of this abuse, and are no longer with us. We hope that through this apology and our commitment to ongoing action and support, we can help change futures. Here, in this place, at this time, we find each other, vulnerable, wounded, hurting, sorry. Yet we are intrinsically linked through our community, through our College networks, through friendships and associations and through a part of our history as a school where the sexual abuse of innocent children occurred causing immeasurable damage to the lives of victims and survivors, their families and the community of Ballarat. For this abuse suffered I offer the following apology on behalf of the current St Patrick’s College community. We acknowledge and apologise for abuse committed by religious and past staff of this College on this site, abuse committed by religious who lived here and offended at other institutions within Ballarat and beyond, and abuse committed by ordained Old Collegians. For the unfathomable harm inflicted on victims and survivors as a result of child sexual abuse. This was harm that can never be measured and can never be undone. For this we apologise. For childhood innocence lost. A time that should have been one of great wonder, happiness and joy, was stolen in the most despicable and heinous way by the very people who were meant to protect and care for you. For this we apologise. For those times when, as a child, an adolescent and as an adult, you felt the suffocating feelings of fear, confusion, powerlessness, grief, guilt, anger, despair, emptiness, loneliness and humiliation. For this we apologise. For those times when the ongoing effects of abuse have reverberated within you with such force and power that it caused incapacitation in relationships, with family and friends, and in your professional careers. For this we apologise. For the loss of your connection to the St Patrick’s College and wider Ballarat community. For this we apologise.
For the disconnection and impact the abuse had your education and the dreams and hopes not realised. For this we apologise For the times you spoke of the abuse perpetrated against you and you were not believed nor listened to. For this we apologise. For the times when the sexual abuse you suffered was known and not acted upon. For this we apologise. For the times you have felt obstructed and blocked in your search for justice. For the times you have felt vulnerable and unable to have your voice heard. For this we apologise. For the times when the sexual abuse you suffered was not acknowledged openly and honestly by the community of St Patrick’s College. For this we apologise. For the abuse perpetrated by religious, staff and those individuals historically associated with St Patrick’s College that still remains unknown or unspoken. For this we apologise. To the parents of those who were abused. You entrusted the care of your child to a school in the belief it would provide a nurturing, happy and safe educational environment. For the betrayal of your trust we apologise. To the families and friends of those who were abused. For the times your loved ones were distant and hurting and you felt their pain as if it was your own. For the disfiguring impact and damage of this abuse on each of you. For this we apologise.
To those who have stood alongside victims and survivors with unwavering commitment. Those in Victoria Police who investigated the abuse and those in health agencies who provide ongoing support. For the times you have been deeply affected and impacted through your steadfast solidarity. For this we apologise. To the members of the St Patrick’s College community including Old Collegians, staff, parents and students who have felt a sense of shame at being connected with this part of our history. For this we apologise. The sexual abuse of children by those historically connected with the College is a source of ongoing pain for so many living in Ballarat. For the hurt and damage this abuse has had on the wider Ballarat community: the tear in the fabric of our school and city where people have been wounded and lost, relationships damaged, families broken, friendships ended. For this we apologise. This apology is another step in the journey towards the hope of healing to which we are committed as a College community. It will require fortitude and courage and demands that we continue to replace words with action. It is our hope to continue to seek ongoing dialogue with victims and survivors in the desire to reconnect with as many past students with the College as possible. We will continue to stand fully in solidarity with victims and survivors, and to be a strong voice for those who need support. We will develop our capacity to provide practical and ongoing assistance through galvanising our “Old Boy” network to help survivors who struggle to cope with everyday life. We will continue to engage in conversations around best practice in child safety as a vehicle for ensuring we never lose focus on the importance of caring for each and every student who walks through our front gates.
Most importantly, we will never forget this part of our history.
Over the past two years, we have also been in conversation with victims and survivors, their families, staff, parents, students, the College Board and the wider Ballarat community, to plan for and construct the first permanent reflective garden and monument in the region. Thank you to all members of the committee, including Maureen Hatcher from Loud Fence, our artist, Melissa Griffin, designer David Turley, and builder, Chris Lafranci, together with the dedicated St Patrick’s College maintenance team. I would also like to acknowledge the financial contributors who made this reflective space possible.
This garden is a reflection of the journey which we want to take with survivors and their families into the future. A journey of renewed trust, of hope and a new beginning. It is also a symbol of our ongoing commitment to vigilance around child safety.