Survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters protested and some walked out of the first day of public hearings into the Catholic Church's Towards Healing protocol by Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse when a lawyer representing the Church quoted the verse "Let the little children come to me" from the Gospel of St Mark.
Peter Gray, Senior Counsel (the equivalent of Queen's Counsel), had only just started his opening remarks when there were cries of disbelief from some in the public seats of the Commission's hearing room in Sydney on 9 December.
"This is a searing and decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Church in Australia," Mr Gray said. "The sacred place of children, their innocence and their trustfulness is central to the Christian tradition and to the Catholic faith.
"Many will remember from their own childhoods the ageless words from the Gospel of Mark: 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the kingdom of God belongs'."
During this passage, some people cried out “Oh, no”, “What an insult”, and “You have got to be kidding.” Some also walked out of the room.
"The Catholic Church comes before this Royal Commission acutely aware of its failures in this fundamental part of its mission," he said. "For many Catholics, the realisation that some Catholic priests and Religious, of all people, have betrayed the trust of children and their parents by abusing them in sexual ways has been almost unbearable. The further bleak realisation that such behaviour was sometimes covered up, with wrongdoers protected while victims were disbelieved or treated coldly, has made an already disgraceful situation even worse."
The Royal Commission was expected to spend two weeks hearing the experience of four Queensland residents who had engaged in the Towards Healing process in cases involving the Archdiocese of Brisbane, the northern New South Wales Diocese of Lismore, and the Marist Brothers.