By Lisa Zengarini
The establishment of a new central body against sexual abuse in the Church, the review of Church governance in Australia and the COVID-19 pandemic will be the main topics of discussion of the Australian Catholic Bishops second Plenary Assembly of this year. The four-day meeting, starting on November 24, was originally planned in Melbourne, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bishops will gather on-line instead, as they did in their first session in May.
Protection of minors
Among the items on the agenda is the establishment of a new national agency with responsibility for all areas of safeguarding and professional standards to prevent sexual abuse in the Church. The new agency, which is expected to commence its work early in 2021, will replace the Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL) established by the Australian Bishops in 2016 to improve child protection. It will also take over tasks carried out by other Catholic agencies dealing with sexual abuse. “Building on the excellent work of existing agencies, this consolidation of roles and responsibilities currently carried out by several offices will create a more effective and efficient means of tackling these critical issues,” Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.
Bishops will also review the new National Response Protocol, which will create consistent, survivor-centred practices for investigation of historical and contemporary complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse. The Protocol was developed with the contribution of various stakeholders, including survivors. According to Archbishop Coleridge it “will allow people with complaints or allegations to see them handled in the same way anywhere within the country and regardless of when or where the abuse is said to have occurred”.
Impact of Covid-19 on Church life
Another item of discussion will be the COVID-19 and its impact on Church life. Bishops will look into the pastoral response of the Australian Church to the crisis.
Finally, the meeting will review Church governance in Australia. It will examine the final version of the report entitled “The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia”, which was presented to the Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia last August. The review of diocesan and parish governance and management was asked for by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.