THE history of St Stanislaus’ College has been forever blemished, head of college Dr Anne Wenham told a public forum on Friday night as she delivered an apology to victims of historic sexual assaults at the school.
Around 100 people attended the Apology Service of Sorrow and Hope held in the school’s Performing Arts Centre, including victims, their families and supporters attending.
In the lead up to the event victims expressed concerns about the service being a trigger for them and while it was clear many struggling through the service, afterwards victims and their families said they felt the apology was heartfelt.
Media had initially been banned from the service but Dr Wenham reversed that decision on Friday afternoon, at the request of victims, and allowed journalists to cover the event.
For one victim, whose identity remains suppressed by the courts,attending the apology gave him a sense of being able to move forward.
“It won’t heal what happened but I agree with what she [Dr Wenham] said and I do think it will help me move forward and bring healing,” he said.
“It’s not something that will happen overnight, but for me it was a step forward.”
Carole Nielsen, whose son Tor was the whistle blower who sparked a police investigation into historic cases of abuse at the college, attended the service with her husband Wayne.
She said she found the chanting [singing] very hard to take.
“But I have to say, I found Dr Wenham’s apology very heartfelt. I appreciated her words,” Mrs Nielsen said.
Mr Nielsen agreed.
“You could hear it in her voice, it was heartfelt.”
Dr Wenham acknowledged that the service would not bring the healing and peace the victims deserved but said she hoped, in some way, it could be a step towards healing.
Speaking on behalf of the school’s past, present and future members, Dr Wenham said the school’s history was and always would be blemished.
“Our college community lives with the knowledge of sexual abuse that happened to young men in its care,” Dr Wenham said.
She said it was part of the school’s history which could not be erased and would not be forgotten.
“In this our 150th year, it’s time to say sorry.”
Dr Wenham acknowledged that for some victims and their families, the service “cannot bring the healing and peace they crave and deserve”.
“To all men who suffered sexual abuse at St Stanislaus’ College, your experience at the college brought heartache instead of joy, fear instead of trust, abuse instead of care and love, shame instead of pride and helplessness and despair instead of love and hope, the loss of innocence instead of the joy of youth.”
She said the apology could not undo the suffering they experienced and acknowledged they carried those memories with them today and always.
She apologised to all victims for the abuse they experienced through the actions of some staff, saying “these men deprived you of joy in your adolescent years and your right to a caring and supportive environment”.
To the parents of men who suffered abuse, Dr Wenham acknowledged their pain, grief and anger at hearing of their son’s abuse.
“I acknowledge the suffering you’ve endured and the sense of betrayal when you trusted the school with the care of your boy,” she said.
“You were denied the joys of parenthood which were yours to experience and for that I am so sorry.”
Dr Wenham also apologised to family members and friends for the impact the abuse had on victims as adults, their wives, partners, brothers and sisters.
“I apologise for the pain and suffering caused to you.”
She said the abuse students were subject to was a disgrace and that the school “does not and will not hide from this”.
“I assure you we have learned from this, and the safety, care and well being of students is at front and centre,” Dr Wenham said.
“I express despair, horror, sadness and sorrow at the actions of some members of staff and I sincerely hope this apology is a step towards healing and we can begin to establish trust where trust was broken, establish hope where it was diminished and destroyed.
“I appreciate we cannot undo what has been done but it comes with the commitment we will continue to do all we can to make sure it never happens again.”
Fr Greg Brett from the Vincentians’ Oceania Province also delivered an apology, acknowledging the Vincentians had failed to live up to their Catholic and Vincentian heritage.
He said he was very aware of the failure to protect and nurture students in a safe environment, acknowledging that the abuse carried out by Vincentian priests destroyed and impoverished the lives of victims.
For this, he apologised unreservedly. He also said it wasn’t enough to say sorry.
“There has to be change, not in words but in actions.”
Fr Brett outlined changes within the Vincentians before asking the question, where to from here?
He said he remained open to victims and their families.
“I am happy to talk to you either together or individually about your lives and needs going forward,” he said.
“I do not believe tonight is the end of this discussion. It could well be the beginning of something else.”