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Time for openness and accountability

Opinion

The release just prior to Christmas of the Royal Commission’s final report was yet another damning indictment on the handling of child sexual abuse by the Church and other institutions. It was also a powerful affirmation of the pain and suffering inflicted on victims and their families, as well as a moving tribute to the courage and strength of the survivors who came forward to tell their harrowing and intensely personal stories.

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Coincidentally, the report’s release came around the same time as a visit to Adelaide by the new CEO of Catholic Professional Standards Limited, the independent entity established by the Church to provide a national and consistent approach to the implementation and auditing of measures to prevent the abuse of children and vulnerable people within its care.

The CPSL also has a major focus on ensuring accountability and transparency which will mean for the first time there will be public reporting of compliance audits, complaint rates and other data. This is a sensitive area because of the need to respect the privacy of victims and the complexities around the reporting of abuse, both historical and current. But it is something that many within the Church have been wanting for some time and should be welcomed with open arms. No matter what the imperfections might be in any reporting system, it is imperative that the Church and institutions make a concerted effort to be more open and transparent. If the CPSL can help provide the mechanisms and resourcing for a consistent, national system of reporting, it will be a big step forward.

Without wanting to diminish the culpability and shame of the Church in the area of child sexual abuse, it should be pointed out that there has been a huge amount of effort put in by many dioceses over the past two to three decades in terms of preventative measures and creating a child-centred culture. The thousands of volunteers, clergy, Religious, teachers and other staff within the Catholic Church and its agencies are well aware of this through undergoing police checks and regular child protection training.

Unfortunately it’s not something that would appear to be widely known outside the Church, perhaps because we have been too inward looking, perhaps because it’s a difficult subject to talk about, or perhaps because no-one was listening.

But it is absolutely vital that the wider public understand that all steps possible are being taken to try and ensure the shocking historical abuse detailed by the Royal Commission never happens again. Sadly, there will always be cases of terrible abuse by individuals within our organisations, but there should never again be a total lack of compassion and disregard for the victim because of a fear of the Church’s reputation. If the Royal Commission shows us anything, it is that nothing damages a reputation more than fear and secrecy.

Like many institutions (political as well as religious), the Church has a great deal of work to do now to restore the public’s trust and it will take all of us, not just the CPSL and our diocesan child protection and professional standards units, to play a party in changing the culture.

 

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