OPINION: Churches can no longer avert gaze from sex abuse
COPLAND: "IT'S kind of like the abuse that has happened in the church over the years".
Her words pulled me up sharp. It was one of those moments when you remember where you were standing when you heard it.
I was in Dalby, meeting with some local Aboriginal people discussing the forced removal of children from their parents and stolen wages in Queensland.
It is an area I have done quite a bit of study in, and I was there as a church employee supporting local people in their struggle for justice and reconciliation.
Something about splinters and logs in people's eyes immediately came to mind as the spectre of abuse in the church reared its ugly head.
The words were gently delivered, but they hit the mark.
This social justice thing is not a new-fangled idea dreamt up by the churches. They have sometimes been late to the party but for centuries have spoken out on issues of injustice.
Advocating against slavery, working to prevent poverty, standing up against racism, upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and the need to treat refugees and asylum seekers with compassion and dignity, caring for the environment are some of the issues covered.
The voices are not always loud, they are not always heard but they are there.
A recent example is when many churches offered their buildings as sanctuaries to prevent vulnerable children and their families being returned to camps in Nauru.
Churches do not have a monopoly on doing the compassionate and just thing but it is certainly a central part of the Christian tradition.
The point made to me on a summer's afternoon in Dalby is well made.
Churches can no longer avert their gaze from the horror that is the abuse of children and vulnerable adults.
The fact is that children have been placed in situations of trust and this trust has been violated with countless lives damaged and broken and even lost as a result.
The argument that this is an anti-church media beat up will no longer wash. The argument that, this is, "just a few bad eggs" is not only wrong, but also dangerous.
If we make monsters of individual perpetrators it avoids the deeper and more important question of, "How did this happen?"
If we remove the "bad eggs" yet the culture and the system that allowed them to perpetrate remains, nothing is achieved.
The film Spotlight clearly demonstrates how powerful a local culture that "looks the other way" can be. It also highlights the role that the media can play in holding people and institutions to account.
The Royal Commission has laid bare many of the shortcomings of the churches in the area of child protection.
It has exposed a pattern where the reputation of the church has drowned out the cries of the most vulnerable.
If church-based organisations wish to be a voice for the voiceless, an instrument of compassion and pastoral care, a place of healing - they must sit with the truth uncovered by the Royal Commission.
And they must listen to the brave voices of the survivors.
Structures must be put in place that ensure that this never happens again.