Church in Australia to implement nationwide protocol for responding to abuse allegations

Australian flag Credit Rob Wilson Shutterstock CNA Rob Wilson/Shutterstock.

Starting in February, the Catholic Church in Australia will have a national protocol for responding to allegations of sexual abuse, the bishops of Australia announced this week.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishop's conference, said the new protocol "demands an approach from the Church that is compassionate and just."

"One of the strengths of the new protocol is that it provides a single national framework, which will ensure a consistent approach to the handling of concerns and allegations," Coleridge said Jan. 28.

The National Response Protocol lays out principles that Church authorities must adhere to when responding to a child abuse allegation, as well as the concrete procedural steps that must be taken when an allegation is received.

These steps include mandatory reporting of criminal allegations of child abuse against current or former Church personnel to police.

The National Response Protocol will replace two protocols established in 1996, about which the Church had received criticism for their "inconsistent or incomplete application," Coleridge said.

The existing protocols will continue to be in use until the end of the year, or the conclusion of matters currently being managed, Catholic Weekly reported.

A 2017 Royal Commission report on child sex abuse in the country's institutions uncovered serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in institutions.

The Australian bishops' conference responded positively to nearly all the Royal Commission's recommendations, but has defended the sanctity of the confessional seal.

The new protocol was developed in response to recommendations in the Royal Commission report, and in two years of consultation with abuse survivors. The bishops' conference of Australia adopted the new protocols at their November 2020 meeting.

The new protocols are based on National Catholic Safeguarding Standards which the Australian church adopted in May 2020.

The protocols also take into account Pope Francis' motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which laid out universal norms on sex abuse reporting and took effect June 1, 2019, days after the adoption of the NCSS.

The norms of Vos estis lux mundi establish that clerics and religious are obliged to report sexual abuse accusations to the local ordinary where the abuse occurred. Every diocese must have a mechanism for reporting abuse. When a suffragan bishop is accused, the metropolitan archbishop is placed in charge of the investigation.

In December 2020, the Catholic bishops of Australia and two other Catholic entities launched Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited, a company charged with the safeguarding of children against sexual abuse by clergy.

Catholic entities in Australia may- but will not be compelled to- "subscribe" to the ACSL. Those entities that subscribe will be expected to comply with its safeguarding standards, conduct reviews and audits of their abuse prevention systems at least every three years, and provide ACSL with a copy of their reviews, which will be published on the ACSL's website.

The Church in Australia during July 2018 launched a compensation program for victims of institutional child sexual abuse, which is expected to run until June 30, 2027.

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