Victims and relatives of children who claim they were sexually abused by the Catholic Church hold placards as they stand outside the venue for Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters

Australian church tackles anti-abuse efforts with new independent non-profit

By 
  • November 29, 2016

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – In Australia, the Catholic Church has established a new independent non-profit to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse.

“Catholic bishops and religious leaders in Australia are determined to do all in their power to ensure that abuse, in any form, should never again occur in the Church,” said a Nov. 22 FAQ on the new company. “The setting of consistent national standards and auditing compliance with them is a key element in this.”

The creation of the non-profit company, Catholic Professional Standards Limited, was jointly announced by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia during the bishops’ plenary meeting with religious leaders at Mary MacKillop Place in Sydney, the Diocese of Hobart reports.

The company will develop, audit, and report on professional protection standards across Catholic entities, with a special focus on areas that currently lack standards.

“We look ahead with safety, respect and authenticity at the core of all we do in the community,” said Sister Ruth Durick, O.S.U., a member representative of Catholic Professional Standards and president of Catholic Religious Australia. “Today’s announcement marks a significant development in how the Church in Australia operates.”

Catholic Religious Australia’s membership includes over 130 congregations of vowed religious and priests.

She said the creation of the company is “a decisive step forward” for the Church following the Royal Commission’s investigation of institutional responses to sexual abuse of children.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, vice president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said he believes the company will continue the “cultural change” begun by the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which represented Catholic organizations before the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission is expected to conclude at the end of 2017.

“Catholic Professional Standards will pay close attention to the relevant recommendations that the Royal Commission makes in its final report to the Government and will be obliged to implement any subsequent related legislation,” the new company’s FAQ said.

The company will not have the jurisdiction to force any church authority to implement its recommendations, but it will publish regular reports that will make it known whether an entity has failed a particular standards audit.

“The influence which Catholic Professional Standards will have over any church authority will be through public accountability,” said its FAQ.

The non-profit will assume the responsibility of the National Committee for Professional Standards any time a complaint is made against a bishop or a leader of a religious institute.

Catholic Professional Standards said it encouraged anyone with a complaint of alleged criminal behavior to report it to the police, or to the appropriate Director of Professional Standards or the relevant Church agency when the alleged behavior is not criminal.

The non-profit company’s establishment is funded by Catholic Religious Australia and the Australian bishops’ conference. Each Church authority that is under review will pay for the costs of each audit and reporting process.

Catholic Religious Australia and the Australian bishops’ conference are establishing a seven-member board of directors for the company. The board will operate and function independent of the Church and will recruit and appoint a chief executive officer in 2017.

Three directors have already been designated: Geoffrey Giudice, past president of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission; Patricia Faulkner, past secretary of the Department of Human Services in Victoria with experience in child protection and family violence; and John Watkins, a former deputy premier of New South Wales.

The company is expected to be running by early 2017.

(Story from the Catholic News Agency)

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