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Catholic archbishop Christopher Prowse apologises over Marist sex abuse healing ceremony

The Catholic archbishop for Canberra says he regrets his decision not to attend a healing ceremony for Marist abuse victims, asking "sincerely for forgiveness from those whom I have offended". 

Archbishop Christopher Prowse was invited to Marist's healing ceremony on Thursday night, but declined to attend. 

A spokeswoman said on Friday that the Catholic church's leader in Canberra and Goulburn had viewed it as a "Marist-specific" event, and that he'd wanted to wait for the royal commission to end so the archdiocese could hold its own. 

The decision angered abuse survivors, who viewed his absence as a continuing sign of a flawed attitude on the abuse crisis from the Catholic Church. 

Late on Friday night, the archbishop issued a statement, which expressed his regret for not attending. 

"Some victims of child abuse have been offended by my non-attendance at the recent Liturgy of Lament at Marist College, Canberra," he said. 

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"In hindsight, I believe they are correct.

"I should have been there to support directly survivors who have suffered terribly at the school in past times. 

"I regret my decision. I ask sincerely for forgiveness from those whom I have offended."

The apology was welcomed by anti child-abuse campaigners Damian De Marco and Mike Desmond. 

But, in a joint statement, they questioned whether Prowse was willing to provide the leadership needed in the church "given he has failed to comprehend such a basic necessity as attending this service". 

"Is he prepared to help lead the change of attitude and culture required to fix those factors which created such frequent occurrences of abuse, high numbers of abusers and a consistent propensity of church leaders worldwide to conceal that abuse from secular authorities?"

The statement also alleged that the next highest ranking clergy in the archdiocese had planned to conduct an exorcism in the Marist chapel as a response to the abuse there, something both questioned the appropriateness of. 

Their statement also questioned the archbishop's request for "forgiveness". Forgiveness, they said, was at the heart of the cover-up and concealment of child abuse within the church. 

"Abusive priests and brothers across the world were always forgiven for their crimes and allowed to carry on business as normal without facing secular justice," the statement said. 

"What is needed from the archbishop is not a focus on moving on but an undertaking to drive the changes that are needed in the church so that our grandchildren don't have to ask us why we didn't fix this problem when it happened to us."

Scores of children were abused at Marist Canberra in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Two of the Catholic brothers involved had been know to the Marist order as predatory clergy prior to their arrival at the school, the royal commission has found. 

The abuse continues to take a heavy toll on survivors. Many have since committed suicide, although the exact numbers are unknown. 

The healing ceremony saw Marist apologise for its failings, acknowledge the hurt and suffering of survivors, and pledge to never let it happen again. 

It was seen by some survivors as a symbol of a changed attitude in the school, but others said it conflicted with the Marist Brothers order's continued handling of abuse cases in the courts.