You could hear her intake of breath and see her face go pale. I’d just told her I was the minister of an Anglican church.
She bit her lip then blurted out: ‘I think the church has got a long way to go before it can ever be trusted - I think we just need to be good to each other and leave religion behind.’
She was clearly upset and starting to shake but wanted to say more.
So I listened. And she told me about the abuse her brother had suffered. For years. And the cover ups and the lies. And the way it wasn’t just her brother but the whole family that was scarred by priests.
I didn’t talk a lot but she graciously listened.
What can you say? No sorry will be enough.
No saying ‘well that was the Catholic church’ cuts it. Speaking of zero tolerance and better systems now is cold comfort to someone who’d been let down so many times by the church.
She’s not alone. The Royal Commission is showing us that again.
What to do? Listen. Weep. Reform. Have zero tolerance. Pray. Give victims the space to say what they want done.
Hear Jesus’ words afresh: "If anyone causes one of these little ones-those who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18.6)
The sad thing is that it is easy for everyone to say zero tolerance after the event, when the damage is done.
We must think about the ambulance for those who have gone after the cliff. But if you’ve ever seen the terrible damage that abuse does then you will want to be committed to building a fence at the top of the cliff.
That means spending time knowing and following the child protection and safe ministry requirements.
It means not bending the rules over that volunteer youth leader because you are short and they haven’t done the training.
That means doing the records check with employment.
Each of these things builds the fence that helps protect the little ones entrusted to our care.
The other thing we can do is pray for the Archbishop and the Safe Ministry Team. As a diocese we need to encourage them and resource them in this vital work.
None of this is quick and simple. It is all slow and painful.
But she’s right isn’t she - the church has got a long way to go before it can ever be trusted.
The Professional Standards Unit receives and deals with complaints of child abuse or sexual misconduct by members of the clergy and church workers. See this page for more information.
Feature photo: Vagawi