By Lisa Zengarini
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has made substantial progress in safeguarding against abuse.
According to the results of an external audit published last week, the ACBC has fully implemented or substantially progressed in the implementation of 97 percent of relevant safeguarding indicators.
The audit was conducted by the Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd (ACSL), a new national agency established in December 2020 by the Australian bishops and Catholic Religious, with the responsibility for all areas of safeguarding and professional standards to prevent sexual abuse in the Church.
The agency replaced the Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL), which was created by the Australian bishops in 2016 to improve child protection, and has also taken over tasks carried out by other Catholic agencies dealing with sexual abuse in Australia. The aim of this move is to make the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults in the Church more effective and efficient in the country.
ACSL published its first findings after selective interviews with Conference staff, interaction with the Conference’s leadership and Safeguarding Committee, and a review of policies and procedures.
According to Dr Trudy Dantis, director of the National Centre for Pastoral Research and chair of the Bishops Conference’s Safeguarding Committee, the audit process helped the organisation strengthen its policies and procedures.
“The Bishops Conference has relatively little direct contact with children, but there is an important role to play in demonstrating a proactive approach for other Church entities,” she said. “There are many Catholic groups whose current ministries and activities aren’t directed towards children and young people. Yet we are still responsible for making sound decisions to limit the possibility of any behaviours that could harm children or other vulnerable people.”
Areas for growth
The two areas where ACSL recommended additional attention related to people attending events and monitoring the online environment.
“When the Conference sponsors events that see young people gather, they are invariably a collaboration with a diocese or other group, which typically has responsibility for safeguarding and child protection matters,” Dr Dantis explained. “We will work towards clearer policies for such events, particularly around managing persons of concern who might be seeking to attend Conference-sponsored events.”
She added that, similarly, the ACBC will assess its policies regarding how staff interact with people online, noting that it is not always clear when those making contact with the Conference electronically are children or young people.
Bishops’ Conference president, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, explained, for his part, that the process is aimed at improving the safety of children and young people through a collaborative approach.
“There will be times when shortcomings have to be called out, but a commitment to addressing issues when they are identified – within and outside the audit framework – is what will continue to enhance our processes,” he said, thanking the ACSL for their advice in helping support continuous improvement.