Ex Pastorelle Sister Speaks Out

THE Catholic Church has received at least 1500 complaints of abuse by priests across Australia, about a third of which are thought to relate to alleged child abuse.

The number, revealed in separate statements made this year by the archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne, is almost certainly an underestimate, as the church says it is unable to provide an accurate national figure.

About two-thirds of these complaints were made in NSW, under the Towards Healing program established in 1996, with most of the rest made under its Victorian equivalent, the Melbourne Response.

Many of those who have been through these processes, however, describe being "re-traumatised" or "re-abused" by the experience.

One victim of pedophile abuse by a priest criticised a lack of independence, saying complainants were "reintroduced to the same environment they experienced in childhood".

"They're effectively forced back into contact with that . . . and that's where the re-abuse comes from."

In letters to alleged victims, the church's Professional Standards Office states: "Towards Healing is to assist the complainant to find some healing, and where possible to experience some measure of reconciliation with the church."

One such recipient, a Sydney woman who complained she had been assaulted as an adult by her parish priest, said yesterday she was "hugely traumatised" by the church's response.

The woman, who asked not to be named, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the priest tried to kiss her and sent a series of text messages calling her "darling" and "Dear beautiful lover of God".

Despite a 2010 letter seen by The Australian apologising "for the hurt you have experienced" and promising the priest's "future in ministry . . . will not be" in the parish, he has been neither disciplined nor moved. "I don't recognise myself as the same person I was two years ago. I'm just very mistrustful of people," the woman said.

Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were abused by a priest, found her experience of the Melbourne Response to be "highly insulting". "It's a trauma we had to go through that could have been avoided," she said.

In 1998, the Fosters received a letter of apology from then archbishop of Melbourne George Pell as well as a separate letter offering a miniscule amount of compensation that was presented as "a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended,"

A spokesperson for Cardinal Pell, now the Archbishop of Sydney, said "by far the majority of people have welcomed the approach of Towards Healing".

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, could not be contacted yesterday.

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