Bearing the southern cross: The challenge of overcoming child abuse trauma in the Australian Catholic church

16 February 2017 | by Tracey Rowland


The child abuse trauma will have profound effects on the country’s Catholic Church for many years to come. A new generation of leaders faces an unprecedented challenge

“Australia del Espiritu Santo”  (the South Land of the Holy Spirit) was first used in the early seventeenth century by the Portuguese sea captain Pedro Fernández de Quirós. He dreamed of taking possession of the southern continent in the name of the Spanish Crown and the Holy Spirit, and keeping it out of the hands of the Protestant Dutch and British. He failed.

The British began to colonise Australia in 1788 and during this early period the Catholics in Australia were under the ecclesial governance of the Vicar Apostolic of Mauritius, Dr William Morris OSB. In 1833 Morris appointed a fellow Benedictine, William Ullathorne OSB – a lineal descendant of St Thomas More, and later the first bishop of Birmingham – as Vicar-General in Australia.

Two years later, another Benedictine, Bishop John Bede Polding OSB, arrived. In 1877 he was succeeded as Archbishop of Sydney by Roger Vaughan, a younger brother of Herbert Vaughan, owner of The Tablet at the time and later the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. These monks carried a vision of Catholic culture centred on scholarship and solemn liturgy; but the Church in the United Kingdom was unable to supply enough priests for this Benedictine dream to be realised.

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