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Priest's 'Confronting' Good Friday Mass Dedicated To Abuse Victims

For Catholics, Good Friday is usually reserved for reflecting on Jesus' pain and suffering ahead of crucifixion, but one Sydney priest chose to focus on the pain and suffering of young sexual abuse victims.

In a move that divided parishioners, an 18-page booklet distributed among church-goers included lengthy and "confronting" congregation responses about sexual abuse.

“I was there with my young kids to reflect on Jesus' pain and suffering and how he sacrificed his life. Instead, I had my child reading responses like ‘for our children who have been hurt by ministers,” one father who attended the mass with his children told 10 daily.

The father said he appreciates the gesture but doesn't think it should be the theme of the most important day of the Catholic calendar. The church is attached to a local primary school and many attendees were young families.

St Mark's Catholic Church Stations of the Cross Booklet. IMAGE: supplied

“We didn’t stay until the end because it got too much and there were so many primary school aged children and younger there.

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It was something like ‘the trauma of sexual abuse, especially those abused by ministers’. That for me was too much because we haven’t had those conversations at home yet,” he said.

The pamphlet was created by the U.S based Weston Jesuit School of Theology and was "dedicated to acknowledging the victims of sexual abuse in the church."

St Mark's Catholic church in Sydney. IMAGE: supplied

The Catholic Church has faced a barrage of child sexual abuse accusations in the last few decades. High-profile cases and distressing testimonies given during public inquiries have continued to keep the issue in the headlines.

Nearly 150 people gave evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse claiming they had been abused by Catholic priests and brothers across the diocese from the 1960s to the early 1990s.

READ MORE: Can The Church Survive Pell's 'Catastrophic' Sex Abuse Conviction?

"It was confronting though ... it was a bold stance," one mother told 10 daily after attending the mass. 

"As Good Friday is a day of reflection, I think it is important to acknowledge the most important issue facing the church today and I'm happy that they are acknowledging the suffering of the victims," she said.

Father Michael McLean of St Mark's Catholic church in Sydney. IMAGE: supplied

She said while her children read the pamphlets and responses, they "knew not to ask about it."

"I would struggle if they asked me to explain it. They are too young for that".

Father Michael McLean told 10 daily he decided on the mass theme with the church committee.

"It's not part of the official liturgy of the church. We get to choose how Good Friday is observed," he said.

He acknowledged that parishioners were "divided" and "passionate" about it.

"One man came up to me afterwards and said it was very good and appropriate to the times," McLean said.

St Mark's Catholic Church Stations of the Cross Booklet. IMAGE: supplied

Others weren't so enthused, but the priest said the issue can no longer be concealed and avoided.

Yes it is confronting, but we have to talk about it, we have to pray about it. We need to say very clearly that sexual abuse is a crime, he said.

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"The church is struggling with change ... but how do we deal this real issue if we remain silent?" he said.

St Mark's Catholic church in Sydney. IMAGE: supplied

A spokesperson from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney told 10 daily Good Friday was "entirely up to Father Michael and not a directive from  us."

The spokesperson said they are not aware of any other churches its Archdiocese that took the same approach.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au