When MacKillop Family Services opened its Heritage and Information Service in 2013, representatives from our founding congregations – the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St Joseph and the Christian Brothers provided the following apology to former residents, and their families.
“The Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St Joseph and the Christian Brothers have been involved with providing care for thousands of children and mothers in Victoria since 1861. Countless Sisters and Brothers have provided this care through their dedication and tireless efforts in institutions established to look after children and mothers.
Through their welfare institutions, the three religious congregations created a nurturing environment that promoted personal and spiritual growth and development.
The institutions were places where shelter, food and education were provided. Despite the difficult and, at times, painful circumstances that brought the mothers and children into these institutions, the carers, with few exceptions, laboured in the best interests of those who were entrusted to them. Their work and dedication are reflected in the lives of the many former residents who, despite deprived backgrounds, went on to take their place as successful members of Australian society.
As we listen to the accounts of former residents of our institutions, we hear stories of appreciation for the opportunities they were given to create for themselves meaningful and satisfying future lives.
Sadly, this was not the experience of all. We acknowledge the trauma of mothers separated from their children. We likewise acknowledge the pain experienced by children who were separated from parents and siblings.
In hindsight, we have come to understand the bitter legacy for so many who have grown up apart from their family of origin. This is experienced in a loss of identity and sense of belonging. We acknowledge that such pain and dislocation are ongoing.
We apologise unreservedly to those who experienced abuse and neglect while in our care. We express our deep shame and sorrow.
The Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St Joseph and the Christian Brothers have responded to residents who have experienced abuse. The congregations will continue to reach out and listen to former residents of our institutions who are still suffering because of their experience in our institutions.
In assisting former residents in the process of addressing the pain of past experience, our hope is that each person will come to a level of healing that will allow them to create a brighter future.
We are aware that we cannot change the past or take away the hurt. We do, however, express our heartfelt regret for the failings of the past and our sorrow for the suffering that still endures.”
When Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presented its final report late 2017, MacKillop had already embraced many of the commission’s recommendations to ensure children in our care today are safe from abuse.
We know, sadly, that some children experienced physical and sexual abuse in our homes and orphanages. Many of these incidents were documented in the Royal Commission reports.
It is important to acknowledge what happened in the past and learn from it. Through our work with people who have grown up in homes and orphanages, we have developed a deep understanding of the life-long impact of childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse.
Anyone who experienced abuse while living in a welfare institution run by the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of St Joseph or the Christian Brothers is encouraged to contact the professional standards officer at the relevant congregation.
The Loud Fence Movement
In early 2016, MacKillop joined the Loud Fence Movement. The movement encourages people to tie brightly-coloured ribbons on the fences of Catholic institutions, as a symbolic act of solidarity with survivors of sexual abuse, their families and communities.
The movement was established in Ballarat in central Victoria and has since spread to cities across the world.
The ribbons are a gentle but powerfully visible sign of remembering those who were abused and recognising that their suffering continues.
MacKillop’s Loud Fence at its South Melbourne offices bears witness to past suffering and offers hope and encouragement for the future.