Communities respond to abuse: Dunedin opted for ‘prayer and penance’

There are no immediate plans for the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin to follow in Wellington’s footsteps by asking priests to fast to atone for historic sexual abuse by clergy.

It was reported yesterday priests in the Wellington region were spending the day praying and fasting to atone for clerical sexual abuse.

The gesture followed a letter from Pope Francis in August, in which he asked all Catholics to fast and pray in order that their ears might be opened to the "hushed pain felt by children and young people" as a result of clerical abuse,  RNZ  reported.

Monsignor Gerry Burns, the vicar-general of the Wellington Archdiocese, said priests decided to fast as a way of committing to a change of heart and church structures which allowed child abuse to flourish. Dunedin Bishop the Most Rev Michael Dooley said yesterday he "definitely" saw merit in the event, but there were no immediate plans for priests to fast in Dunedin.

Instead, a day of "prayer and penance" was held last week  at St Joseph’s Church in Brockville, he said.

A "moderate" number of people attended throughout the day, he said.

Bishop Dooley was also "looking at ways that we can gather in prayer and reflection to address the trauma of sexual abuse".

"Each community will have different ways of responding."

He has previously suggested a "liturgical gathering" could be staged in Dunedin, as a way of "acknowledging the abuse and acknowledging our failings".

Bishop Dooley, speaking in August, also apologised to the city and asked for forgiveness, after admitting the church had failed to protect children from paedophiles disguised as men of the cloth.

"There’s no other way around it. It’s a failing," he said.

International headlines had also prompted a scathing letter of condemnation by Pope Francis to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, in which he condemned both the "atrocities" of child sex abuse and cover-ups by the church.

"We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them," he said.

In New Zealand, the coalition Government is  yet to announce a final decision on the scope of a pending royal commission designed to examine historic abuse in state care.

Survivors and their supporters have called for the royal commission to be expanded to include all faith-based settings.

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