A project conceived and led by abuse survivors is hoping to open a new chapter in the life of Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
It would have been difficult not to have heard something over the past few months about The Atonement: Lina’s Project if you live in Newcastle, the Hunter or Manning regions.
Throughout July, August and September a mysterious penguin and egg started appearing on billboards, TV screens, in newspapers and magazines, as well as in social media feeds.
Lina, a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a member of clergy in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, devised The Atonement: Lina’s Project as a way of rebuilding her own trust in the Church and bringing some healing to the ‘average, ordinary human beings’ whose skin had been ‘burnt, scorched and blistered’ by the actions and inactions of the church.
Around 500 people were in attendance at the event on Friday 15 September. Victims, survivors, their families and friends, clergy, religious, principals, teachers, diocesan staff and others from the community, and around Australia sat together in the Concert Hall. The mood on the night was, as Pat Feenan described it, ‘quiet, respectful and sad, which was exactly as it should be’.
MC, ABC journalist and presenter Juanita Phillips, welcomed all and explained how Lina’s Project came to be. A 16-minute audio-visual presentation was shown. The majority of this was naming perpetrators of abuse in this diocese, as well as those who concealed their crimes, but Lina’s voice anchored the film and, along with quotes from other victims and survivors happy to lend their voice to the project, gave the presentation its compass. The hush that enveloped the crowd both during the presentation and at its conclusion was moving, to say the least. One person who was present described the event as ‘beautifully sensitive and heartbreakingly truthful’.
After a couple of minutes of silence people were invited to attach a piece of egg ‘shell’ to an egg on the stage. This ritual tied in to the symbol of the King penguin and the egg, which was devised by Lina and used to promote the event, and also played a key role in the presentation. The idea was that once pieces were attached to the egg it would be clear that the shell was replaced, but still broken.
It was incredible to witness so many take part in this ritual and very clear that Lina’s Project had struck a chord with those who were there. As far as I know The Atonement: Lina’s Project was the first time anywhere in the world that a Catholic diocese has facilitated a project conceived by a victim in this way. As a member of the team who worked on this project on behalf of Lina and the diocese and also as someone who consulted regularly with other victims and survivors, I was relieved that Lina’s Project brought some measure of vindication for people who have been desperately trying to get the diocese to acknowledge its criminal history and cover-ups for so long.
There were a lot of brave people in that Concert Hall (and watching the live stream) – a lot of understandably wary and sceptical human beings. But the fact that they put themselves in that vulnerable space spoke volumes about the human heart’s ability to hope; to believe that maybe this time something positive would happen.
It is clear to me that we need to, as a community, dive deep into victims’ stories and truly listen to what they are saying. Each person’s story is unique. Each person’s healing is subjective. Lina, by being brave enough to trust the diocese to facilitate her ideas, allowed the diocese to take a positive step in the right direction. The event and the audio-visual presentation could never be all things to all people, but they are a powerful statement of acknowledgement and atonement. I truly hope that Lina’s soul and spirit have found some solace.
To view the video and find out more about Lina’s Project go to www.linasproject.com.au.