Canberra Goulburn's Archbishop Prowse feels deeply the shame of the Church's failures on child protection and is convinced that a focus on victims is essential to the Church's recovery.
'We are going through an unprecedented crisis in the Catholic Church,' he said this week. 'There is so much shame, there is so much humiliation with the criminal acts of some of us [that] for us to stand alongside victims, to encourage them to come forward and to listen to their story, is absolutely imperative.'
Appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn last September, Archbishop Prowse said he had been humbled and inspired by 'the raw courage of so many victims of clerical sex abuse as children.'
'They have been very heroic in trying to refocus on their life and to instruct us as a church [on] where we have failed and what we can do to ameliorate a very difficult stage of our history.'
He said the victims 'who are able to be courageous enough to share with us their stories' are 'the new missionaries.'
'When I sit down with victims there's tears, there is anger, there's shouting, there's lament. Yet, over a period of time, I've also found reservoirs of wanting to start again, a sense of forgiveness that would come after the acknowledgement of the injustice, a sense of working together to make sure these things don't happen again.'
The Archbishop is the first to concede the road to reconciliation is complex, delicate and challenging. 'Sex abuse is a bit like an atomic bomb on faith. It devastates faith for the people that have been affected by it directly.'
He has met individuals who have made that journey, however, and it has given him cause for hope.
'They speak, as it were, from the other side, after having been for many years working through the issues and facing it and correcting the Church and then having their legitimate injustices addressed by the Church,' he said. 'There is a light at the end of the tunnel I hope.'
Describing himself as an optimist by vocation and by nature, Bishop Prowse said: “It seems to me that in the midst of this terrible tsunami of evil, of sex abuse, there is the hope at least that we can move forward together.”
He acknowledges the problem of dealing with perpetrators who have been victims themselves is a difficult one.
Catholic Archbishop says abuse victims are 'the new missionaries' (The Sydney Morning Herald)