By Linda Bordoni
A joint statement by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Catholic Religious Australia - a body of religious in Australia, comprising more than 150 member congregations - falls on the second anniversary of the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Significant progress – the signatories of the statement say - has been made in child protection, but keeping kids safe remains a top priority, and any institution that engages with young people must continue to be vigilant.
This, in a nutshell, is the message at the heart of the report monitoring the Church’s action following the Royal Commission request to provide input on the implementation of recommendations and new input.
That Commission was established in 2013 by the Australian government to inquire into and report upon responses by institutions to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse throughout Australia. It examined the history of abuse in educational institutions, religious groups, sporting organisations, state institutions and youth organisations and produced a series of key recommendations.
The statement focuses on progress made during the past year, and in itself, responds to the recommendation to provide feedback to the Royal Commission following the adoption of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards both by lay and religious institutions.
Highlighting the progress that has been made it calls for continuing vigilance and work to ensure that strong and effective protocols and procedures are in place, generating a culture committed to prompt and decisive action when allegations arise.
It points out that more work is under way to develop new national guidelines to strengthen and standardize responses to historical and more recent concerns and allegations of abuse and that work, being developed with input from survivors of abuse, will continue in 2020.
Church's unreserved commitment
The two signatories of the statement, Archbishop Mark Coleridge (President of the ACBC), and Brother Peter Carroll (President of the CRA), say they are firm in “working together to create or enhance approaches that are informed by best practice and reflect Catholic understandings and reiterate the Church’s unreserved commitment to keeping children and vulnerable people safe in Catholic settings at all times.
Br Peter Carroll underscores how the adoption of Safeguarding Standards represented an important moment in the Church’s response, noting that “The Standards that religious institutes and dioceses have endorsed build on the 10 key elements as outlined by the Royal Commission, adding an additional layer of requirements that reflect the circumstances of the Catholic Church.”
“How we protect those in our care and how we respond to people who have been harmed by the Church is core to our ministry” Br Peter writes.
Archbishop Coleridge points to the ‘National Redress Scheme’ – that has been overwhelmingly adhered to by the Catholic Church in Australia - as an avenue for victims and survivors to pursue enabling them to contact institutions directly or access pastoral response programmes for healing.
Finally, reiterating the Church’s clear statement that “sexual abuse allegations are to be taken straight to the police as such behaviour is a crime,” Br Peter and Archbishop Coleridge reaffirm the Church’s unreserved commitment to keeping children and vulnerable people safe in Catholic settings at all times.