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The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council feels great sorrow for the pain and anguish of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families affected by the former government policy of forcibly removing indigenous children from their families.

Many Catholics didn't know much about this practice until the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission conducted its Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. We now understand that many indigenous Australians have been deeply hurt by this experience. The brave telling of personal stories at the Inquiry's hearings tore at the hearts of mothers and fathers. We are all someone's children.

The general presumption, whether conscious or unconscious, of white, European superiority lead to measures that had the effects of suppressing the culture, history, language and spirituality of these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. On a personal level, children taken into 'care' were sometimes subject to violence and sexual abuse.

When all this was happening the Catholic Church did not publicly challenge the policy of assimilation that underpinned the taking of the children. We recognise now that the policy of forcibly taking the children away was, at best, misguided. For our Church's failure to defend the rights of these children and families, we are truly sorry. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have the right to raise their children in their own way in their own families and their own cultures.

Some Church agencies were involved in providing care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who had been removed from their families. This was done with good intentions, and often with real dedication and love on the part of religious women and men, but the forced removal of children from their families and culture was still harmful and unjust. For any part that church agencies played in the unjust treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, we are truly sorry.

The effects of this trauma are still felt in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities today. Many of the 'stolen generation' are still searching for their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. Like all of people, they need to know who they are and where they come from. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are still looking for their children and trying to make their families whole.

We regret that, because of the inadequacy of existing records of children taken into the care of church agencies, there is little hope that access to such records will help such families to reconnect. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission and the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes are coordinating an effort to address this situation.

The harm done to family life continues in following generations. People who were taken from their parents and communities as infants are now working hard to be good parents. The challenge ofparenting is all the harder for those deprived of positive examples of parenting by their own parents and other members of their extended families and communities.

The loss of language and identity are at the heart of much Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suffering today. The 'stolen generation' are unable to pass on what was taken away from them.

Centacare agencies around the country provide support and counselling services which may help the 'stolen generation' in their journey of healing and growth.

Today has been declared a 'Sorry Day'. That does not mean everyone should feel guilty today. It is a day to acknowledge the truth about the injustice of past government policies that intruded on and severely damaged the family lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a day to hear and understand the pain of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Acknowledging the truth will set us all free. It is a day for us all to say that we are sorry that these things happened.

Today the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council acknowledges our Church's part in these events, and offers the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and especially the 'stolen generation', our sincere regret. We hope through this acknowledgment of the truth of the past to take another step together on the path to healing. We are now seeking a closer partnership with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council to work together for reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous 'Australians.

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