Australia’s bishops seeking ‘whole-of-Church’ approach for child protection

Australia’s bishops seeking ‘whole-of-Church’ approach for child protection

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops' conference, gives the homily during Mass at a meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 24, 2019. (Credit: Maria Grazia Picciarella/CNS.)

Plans are moving forward for a new national system in Australia for handling clergy abuse complaints.

Plans are moving forward for the establishment of a national system for child protection within the Australian Catholic Church, according to a report following the meeting of the country’s Catholic bishops earlier this month. 

The “National Response Protocol,” will develop a comprehensive system for reporting complaints of clergy abuse or misconduct and establish new guidelines for child protection policies. 

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, current president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said that the new system will model a “whole-of-Church” approach, and involve key stakeholders from various sectors, including victim survivors and their families.

“The bishops are grateful that, along with Catholic Religious Australia and the Association of Ministerial Public Juridic Persons, there is a common purpose and a shared vision for a national framework,” said Coleridge in a statement. 

“Existing methods of responding to allegations have their strengths, but the new National Response Protocol will create a nationally consistent process whether someone brings a complaint to a regional diocese, a religious institute or metropolitan archdiocese,” he continued.

Part of the new national system, said Coleridge, is to streamline some of the already established programs throughout the country to avoid duplication and to clarify proper relations with civil authorities.

“The Church – whether within dioceses, provinces, religious institutes or at the national level – has established many offices over the past three or four decades to respond to complaints of sexual abuse, and their work is critical,” Coleridge said. “What we know, though, is that there is duplication in some places, including some overlap with government agencies, and there are questions about the appropriate level of delivery: local, provincial, state or territory, or national.”

The meeting of Australian bishops and the update on the national protocol comes just one month after Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney, was released from prison after the country’s high court overturned his conviction of sexual abuse against two minors, and just one year after Pope Francis issued new protocols for bishop accountability and requiring every diocese in the world to have a system for reporting complaints. 

Findings released in 2017 from a Royal Commission inquiry into the abuse of minors listed 4,756 reported claims of abuse by Catholic Church officials dating between 1950-2015. 

Coleridge, in his statement, said that the current work underway in the establishment of a new national system “has set us on the path to a more effective approach for the benefit of the whole community.” 

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212

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