Perhaps the answer is that Western civilisation was emerging from a time when children were still regarded as chattel – to be seen and not heard, not to be spoilt or doted upon because some childhood disease might snatch them away and leave us with an unliveable grief.
Whatever the reason, the National Apology holds us to account - children must be loved and protected. Sorry is not enough, nor is an institutional response if it does not spring from a new national appreciation of the preciousness of every child no matter how young, how foreign, how unwanted, how naughty or nice, whether born or unborn. This moment must not be lost to politics or ideology. We must seize it while our hearts are illuminated with humility.
The Prime Minister repeated the comment that this apology was being made in humility. At this time it is as if the crimes committed are beyond forgiveness. These crimes must be paid for. The children must be compensated. The perpetrators must be punished. These were crimes against humanity – powerful adults preying upon powerless children. This was predatory. This was merciless. This was totally indefensible. Inhuman.
This is a moment for institutions to strengthen their codes of conduct, to reduce the opportunity for abuse and to compensate victims. As we implement the National Redress Scheme we will reflect upon the value of every child, or anyone else who is unable to defend themselves. We will weigh up the cost to society of turning a blind eye or a deaf ear. We will search for the moral strength, for the social commitment to ensure it never happens again. If we will allow it, this can be a moral watershed for the nation.
When the grieving time has lessened sufficiently for other conversations, we may ask if there are any other situations remotely like this? Are we collectively allowing anything else that we will profoundly regret in days to come? Are we dehumanising someone else and in the process dehumanising ourselves? In this moment of illumination, other memories may be standing in the shadows of our minds, some personal, and some collective.
And how much better our private lives and public conversation would be if the silent witnesses were not there? And they can be sent away but not without a name, the light of truth, personal humility and willingness to make our peace with God and Man and to fix what can be fixed. Dare we use this moment in time to make peace with someone, especially someone in our own families that we may have offended?
Imagine a gentle flood of reconciliation moving across our land, bringing grace and forgiveness to families and communities as a heartfelt response to the suffering of so many children in our institutions. Their suffering would not be in vain.
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