Ribbons have been tied to a fence at St Patrick’s church in Napier and will stay there as an acknowledgement of child sexual abuse in the Church and to raise awareness of the issue.
The fence is now a “Loud Fence”, which is a movement that started in Ballarat in Australia in 2015.
A ceremony took place at the Napier site on October 24, reportedly attended by a group of survivors from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), family members of survivors, two priests, the St John’s College principal, a Marist brother, a representative of the local iwi and others.
SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand national leader Dr Christopher Longhurst spoke at the event, and said the placing of the ribbons was to “show support for all victims and survivors of clerical and religious child sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse in churches and in other institutions”.
The ribbons, which were blessed by a priest and described by Dr Longhurst as a “gift to our local community”, came from victims and survivors, their families and supporters, from various places including Wellington, Christchurch, Napier and from the United States.
“The ribbons are placed on this fence today and anytime onwards to remind us of the tragedy that befell helpless and innocent children at our local Catholic schools and churches, and elsewhere, by the violence of priestly and religious child sexual assault, and by attempts to subsequently cover up these crimes and deny the abuse,” Dr Longhurst said.
“Hawke’s Bay was the place of horrendous clerical child sexual abuse in the local Catholic community,” he added.
” . . . We call ourselves survivors because not all of us survived, some of us took our own lives.”
The “loud fence” helps break the silence around the child abuse issue, he noted. Some of the ribbons have writing on them and tell personal stories, he added, therefore they are tapu.
“This fence is now an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. It is not a place of protest. It is a place to pause and reflect when passing by; a place of public and peaceful lament, a place of recognition of a tragic truth; a place of prophetic crying out in the face of not just the evil of the abuse, but also the subsequent evils of silence and denial; it is a monument to victims and survivors and their families, a sacred place, a tapu site.”
Dr Longhurst noted that Palmerston North diocese apostolic administrator Cardinal John Dew had written a letter to parishioners in the diocese explaining the significance of the Loud Fences movement, and asking for people to be respectful of it. The cardinal stated that, sometimes, people have not been aware of the significance of such fences, and have removed ribbons, which is deeply disrespectful to survivors/victims and can be retraumatising.
“I know that for some Churchgoers to support this movement requires tremendous courage,” Dr Longhurst said at the ceremony, “because it is a challenge to accept this terrible shame. So today is a special day here in Napier, because today we own this truth. In so doing we own our past, hopeful that crimes like this will never happen again, and if they do, then each and every perpetrator will be brought to justice.”
Hawkes Bay Today reported Catholic parish of Napier parish priest Fr Barry Scannell, SM, saying it is “very important” to stand in solidarity with survivors.
“The wider Church is definitely in support of making this issue certainly one that is not covered up, that is uncovered, everything the Church does these days is aimed towards that and also the supporting and hopefully recovery of those who have been affected by it,” Fr Scannell said.
The article added that parishioners were also invited to tie ribbons after Mass on Sunday.
Other loud fences have been created at churches in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland, but the Napier occasion was the “first Loud Fence event in New Zealand that was a community grassroots movement lead by SNAP Aotearoa with the support of the local parish and diocesan administrator”, Dr Longhurst told NZ Catholic.
“Already more ribbons have been placed by parishioners.”