From a mother and an educator

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12 May 2017

By Lila McInerney. Originally published in the May 2017 edition of Melbourne Catholic. Lila McInerney and her family in London

It’s not easy to be a good mother. It takes a lot of hard work and patience – constantly. I hope I am a good mother! My father used to tell me I was a good daughter and my friends say I’m a great friend. As a teacher my students often give me positive feedback and as a deputy principal of Genazzano FCJ College, Kew, I receive wonderful affirmation for my capacity to lead. My husband often says I’m a good wife. He’s even been known to say I’m the best – but I accept, he’s probably biased! 

But I pray and hope that I’m a good mother. 

I know there will be some people who will make distinctions between who they are at work and who they are at home. I cannot do this. I simply am who I am. For me, I believe that this is all based on my commitment to my faith and belief in my God, who is a loving Father and Mother.

How I parent my children, how I partner my husband, how I interact with my friends, how I care for my students and their parents, how I lead staff, how I support the most needy during immersions to Timor Leste – what you see in me is who I am.

As a person who is Catholic, my faith is in a God who is good. A God whose love for all creation has resulted in the creation of humanity in God’s own image and likeness. A God who in time became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ – whose message was clear, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ and ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

I have given birth to three of the most wonderful and amazing children. I love them so dearly and would honestly do anything for them.

At the moments of each of their births, I was just so overcome at the amazing gift I had been given by God. At birth, and as children, I recognise that the one need in a child that takes precedence over all others is the need to feel safe and secure. As our children have grown, I have experienced this need constantly and so, on a daily basis, I try and do all that I can to continue to love, nourish and care for our children.

When I then turn to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, this is when it begins to get really difficult for me, particularly as a mother.

Whilst I have spoken about being a mother, my ‘other’ role as Deputy Principal of Student Learning and Wellbeing at Genazzano FCJ College sees me constantly being aware and ensuring that our school is manifestly a child-safe school – ‘This commitment is drawn from and inherent to the teaching and mission of Jesus Christ, with love, justice and the sanctity of each human person at the heart of the Gospel.’

Our school, like all Catholic schools, has a ‘moral, legal and mission-driven responsibility to create a nurturing school environment where children and young people are respected, their voices are heard and where they are safe and feel safe.’ (CECV Commitment Statement to Child Safety)

As I am writing this reflection, I am now aware of a change occurring within me. That beautiful, at ease sense of love and calmness that I was feeling recalling being a mother to three growing yet innocent children is being taken over by a sense of anger, disbelief, hurt and pain when I think of the abuse victims and those who abused – both the person and their position.

I believe in the dignity of every human being – a core Catholic social teaching – and I believe every person involved in the Catholic Church and Catholic education has a responsibility to understand the important and specific role he/she plays individually and collectively to ensure that the wellbeing and safety of all children and young people is at the forefront of all they do and every decision they make. It certainly is the way I live and think.

This being the case, the findings of the Royal Commission have rocked me to my core. They have challenged me and led me to ask questions about who can be trusted, what to believe and what my religion and faith really means to me. And I know I am not the only one in this position. I have been hurt and am still hurting – particularly for the victims who trusted and whose trust was broken.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has continued to examine the causes of child sexual abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church in Australia over the last 60 years.

We’ve all been confronted with these horrific statistics. The data tells us that over the six decades from 1950 to 2010 some 1265 Catholic priests and religious were the subject of a child sexual abuse claim. These numbers are shocking; they are tragic and they are indefensible.

I certainly agree with Fr Frank Brennan SJ, CEO Catholic Social Services Australia, when he states, ‘Hopefully the Royal Commission can formulate universal principles and standards which can be applied to all institutions ensuring better protection of children. The state has a legitimate interest ensuring that Church structures and procedures comply with the principles and standards set down in laws enacted by parliaments.’Lila McInerney and her family on holiday

For me, this is now a very real journey for the head and the heart. I am beginning to sense what it must have been like for Jesus when he fell the third time on his way to Calvary!

As a mother, what impact has the Royal Commission had? Has it weakened my faith? Well, it’s impacted – and it’s dented a bit, but I do believe, in a strange and bizarre way, that perhaps it has strengthened me in my faith. It has led me to search deeply — to find a response that is at my very core of what I truly believe.

When reflecting on sexual abuse within the American church, theologian Ron Rolheiser wrote, ‘In effect, this is a “dark night of the soul” and, like most dark nights of the soul, it wounds at a particularly vulnerable spot. It’s easy to be scandalised, especially religiously, when sex is involved.’ This is a dark night of the soul. Like every dark night, it’s meant to stretch the heart. This is always painful and our normal impulse is to do something to end the pain. But it won’t go away until we learn what it’s meant to teach us.

While it would be very easy for me to play the blame game (and I do think those who have committed these most heinous crimes should receive appropriate consequences), I am a believer that to experience the Resurrection one must firstly have to experience death on a number of levels.

Individuals committed these crimes – not God. If people want to disagree with me and say it was God’s fault I can appreciate the pained place where they are coming from – but that is not the God I believe in. Someone once said that when the night is the darkest, the most overwhelming and murkiest, the stars shine ever more brightly. Perhaps those stars are those in our church, in our schools and in our world who are truly men and women of good will; those who experience the joy and love of God and share it with every person they meet. This is a time when it is imperative to experience the light shining in our darkness, and a light that the darkness cannot overwhelm.

I will continue to care for and love my own three children. I will continue to care for and love all of those I lead, teach and know. I will continue to believe in the God who said to love your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

And I will continue to pray that in families, schools and society, nothing like this ever happens again.

Lila McInerney is the current Deputy Principal of Student Learning and Wellbeing at Genazzano FCJ College, Kew, and will soon begin her first Principalship at Mercy College, Coburg.