The head of the Catholic Church in Auckland has called on parishioners to respect child sex abuse memorial ribbons after abuse survivors raised concerns.

The destruction of a “Loud Fence” memorial outside an Onehunga church on June 1 sparked claims of re-victimisation from a survivors’ group, which said the church continued to minimise or misunderstand the gravity of past abuse.

The church previously said “frightened” children removed ribbons from the fence after Mike Ledingham launched his book The Catholic Boys, which detailed his abuse at the hands of the late Father Francis “Frank” Green, on June 1.

Published in Stuff

This week, the group Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions urged Bishop Patrick Dunn to meet with its members publicly and re-attach the ribbons.

Dr Murray Heasley​, a spokesman for the survivors’ group, said abuse survivors added 30 new ribbons last week, after those attached during the book launched were slashed.

More ribbons were expected to arrive next week from supporters in Australia.

Heasley told Stuff he would welcome meeting with Dunn publicly.

“We’ll tie them on with him.”

Heasley and his colleague Liz Tonks wrote to Dunn on June 7, asking him to allow a dedicated box of blank ribbons in the church for people to write messages of support and sympathy for victims and survivors of Green.

Heasley and Tonks said on Friday night they were yet to receive a response.

Dunn responded to Stuff’s enquiries through a spokeswoman, who said the bishop went to Onehunga during the week and tied a ribbon himself on the fence.

“He is very happy for ribbons to be left at the church with an invitation to parishioners who would like to add a ribbon to the others,” spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said.

She said Dunn also sent a notice, read to parishioners at masses in Onehunga last weekend.

In the notice, Dunn said “a family who experienced abuse in the parish many years ago” placed the ribbons.

“It has become a tradition for victims of abuse to place ribbons around the places where abuse occurred, with messages on them calling for justice and love to prevail in all our dealings.

“I would ask you to respect these feelings, and not to remove the ribbons,” Dunn’s notice added.

Freer said the Bishop was upset when the ribbons were removed and he intended to reply to Heasley and Tonks.

But on Friday, Ledingham said the notice to parishioners understated the problem.

“This wasn’t from just one family, this was from an ever-growing list of victims of the paedophile Green,” Ledingham said.

He said he was sceptical about claims frightened children took the ribbons down.

“My niece wrote ‘Love conquers all’ and it was frightening to the children?”

Thirty ribbons were on the fence on Friday.

Meanwhile, Grant West, a survivor of abuse at state and faith-based institutions, said he was sending ribbons from Australia.

He said the ribbons were a crucial to the healing process for countless victims.

He said ribbons on a loud fence in Ballarat, Victoria, were once taken down before pressure on the church there led to the ribbons being reinstated.

West said he was sending ribbons to remind abuse survivors here “not to give up”.

By John Weekes
Published in Stuff
15 June 2019