2015-10-20 10:59:00

Synod: long term effects of sexual abuse on family life

(Vatican Radio) The Synod of Bishops on the family winds up its small language group work on Tuesday, with participants discussing further changes they’d like to see reflected in the concluding document.

Over the past two weeks the Church leaders have been seeking to resolve tensions between two different visions of family life and ministry, one focused more on the traditional teaching of the Church and the other searching for new ways of engaging with people living in relationships outside of that Church teaching.

Maria Harries is one of the 30 women attending the Synod as an auditor or specialist in different areas of family life. She chairs the Catholic Social Services in Australia and works with survivors of clerical sex abuse as a member of the Australian Catholic bishops’ Truth, Justice and Healing Council. She talked to Philippa Hitchen about her appeal to Synod fathers to broaden their vision of family life and to acknowledge the healing that still needs to take place for families devastated by the impact of sexual abuse…


Maria speaks first about the importance of listening to and engaging with different cultures, as she has learn through her own experience with Australia’s Aboriginal people. She explains how they have a very different family model which is not nuclear but rather a kinship or broader family system where a child can have many mothers or fathers…

She also talks about the lasting damage done by sexual abuse to both survivors’ families and the wider communities of the Church where people learn of crimes committed in their parish or religious organisation.

Many victims, she notes, don’t speak about the trauma of abuse until later in life and so shockwaves, which have been building up over time, can drive people away from the Church.

Furthermore, she explains that new events continue to “trigger trauma” and the constant focus of recent enquiries and commissions means survivors are constantly “catapulted back into trauma”.

While apologies are an important part of the length reconciliation process, Maria says the Church must do more by setting up collective systems for healing, as well as exploring how the abuse happened in the first place.

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