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Question and Answers from the Diocesan Assembly 3 June 2017

Following Francis Sullivan's address in relation to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) at the Diocesan Assembly at Fairy Meadow in June 2017, participants were invited to ask questions. The Diocesan Child Protection Committee have spent careful and considered time responding to the questions. Some of the questions were very similar and accordingly have been merged to avoid unnecessary repetition.

We hope that our responses are comprehensive and welcome further feedback. Please contact the Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding, Ms Anna Tydd for any further discussion or inquiry at 

1. How do we go FORWARD in parishes and ensure our children are safe?

The Diocese of Wollongong is committed to involving all members of the Diocese in parishes and welcomes their contribution to the protection of children and vulnerable adults. The forum held in Fairy Meadow in June 2017 was established to initiate an ongoing engagement with Diocesan members to both listen and act on the needs of the faithful who continue to contribute so much for the people of this Diocese. The Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding, Ms Anna Tydd was appointed in mid-August 2017 and is responsible for several significant projects that will involve this essential work at a parish level.

Particularly, Ms Tydd is currently developing a Parish Safeguarding Officer Program which will be rolled out across each parish within the Diocese in 2018. A similar program has already been implemented in the Archdiocese of Perth and the Diocese of Parramatta. Two lay volunteer officers will be selected and trained for each parish and work in conjunction with the Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding to educate and train members of the Church in parishes about safe practices involving children and vulnerable adults. The Diocese will also focus on the active participation and leadership of lay people, including women in parish groups including Parish Councils. Workshops such as Protective Behaviours Workshops for parents and carers to increase the personal safety of their children will be held.

The Diocese together with parents, carers and schools are responsible for the education of children and young people to ensure that they have the capacity to understand and identify harmful behaviour and to provide them with tools to better protect themselves. This education is already part of the teaching within Catholic schools within the Diocese. Child protective behaviour workshops and education at the Parish level is now being developed and will be part of the Parish Safeguarding program which will be implemented in 2018.

2. How do victims and families get the message we need them, as a Church, to move forward?

It is imperative that the Diocese of Wollongong is committed to a set of principles and a framework that provides a supportive environment to those survivors and victims who engage with the Diocese. Each survivor and victim must have equal access and treatment by the Diocese irrespective of their needs. The needs of survivors are infinitely varied; with some survivors wanting to continue a close relationship with the Church, whilst others understandably want nothing more to do with the Church within which they were abused. It is the right of survivors and victims to determine their own healing and support. The Diocese is committed to the key recommendations provided by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with respect to redress:

3. What are the Bishops doing about dealing with the abuse situation and modernising our approach to Church?

Throughout the country, bishops and provincials are setting up positions and/or teams within their respective Catholic Church authorities that are dedicated to the area of protection and safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. At a national level, throughout the life of the Royal Commission each Diocese within Australia and each congregational member of Catholic Religious Australia supported the establishment of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council that has been instrumental in the response of Catholic Church authorities to the Royal Commission. The participation of the Council has been immense, including representation of the Catholic Church at every relevant public hearing; the provision of 16 comprehensive submission papers; key engagement in numerous roundtables; and the provision of expert witnesses and projects such as the Catholic Data Project.

Individual Catholic Church authorities have also participated in key areas of the Royal Commission including those public hearings which investigated diocesan and congregational responses, the provision of data for the Catholic Data Project and the contribution of various experts from the Catholic Church. A new independent company namely, Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL) has also been established by the Catholic Church to develop, audit and report on compliance with professional standards to protect children and vulnerable people.

4. What protection do teachers have now when they see things that are not right? They had NO protection in Wollongong during our bad times. They knew if they spoke up they could lose their jobs thus they lived in conflict.

In NSW, teachers and all other school employees too, have a duty to report allegations and serious child protection concerns in order that the head of agency will fulfil the legal obligation to take appropriate action, prioritising the protection of children and young people.

The NSW Ombudsman oversights that all schools in NSW have effective systems in place for reporting of these matters.

Teachers who carry out their duty to report, are protected when they are acting in good faith. This can include also reporting their concern about the school’s response and if needed they may complain to the NSW Ombudsman about that. School authorities are required to take appropriate steps so that employees can come forward with child protection concerns and not suffer intimidation or retribution for taking the appropriate course of action.

Independent Congregational schools within the Diocese have the same duty as any other NSW school and there is Ombudsman oversight. Confidentiality is also an important aspect of dealing with such complaints.

5. Given today’s forum, what happens next?

The Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding for the Diocese of Wollongong has developed a strategic plan and is undertaking various projects to be rolled out in 2018. The Director is developing a Diocesan Child Protection and Safeguarding Handbook with respect to children and vulnerable adults which will be rolled out in 2018. This Handbook will create a clear expectation for the following:

  • Code of Conduct based on criminal and civil legislative requirements (including WWCC) and Integrity in Ministry;
  • Complaints handling with respect to professional standards including the investigative process;
  • Mandatory reporting obligations;
  • Risk Assessments both during and after an investigative process;
  • Disciplinary outcomes including monitoring; supervision and accommodation for those who are assessed as a risk.The Diocesan Parish Safeguarding Program will also be rolled out in 2018 as set out below. The Diocese is also developing a pastoral supervision program for clergy, and later, for other relevant Catholic Church Personnel. A training and compliance program for education for all clergy relating to the protection of children and vulnerable adults will also be rolled out in 2018. The Diocese intends to publish an annual report on complaints relating to children and vulnerable adults each year commencing in 2018. The annual report will also identify the key initiatives and programs of the Diocese with respect to the protection of children and vulnerable adults. The Diocese will also continue to develop its support structure for victims and survivors.

While the Diocese of Wollongong has dramatically improved the way it now approaches cases of child sexual abuse, these changes will be built upon as we learn more from the survivors who come forward, the research and policy development both internally and externally, including that published by the Royal Commission together with the Royal Commission's upcoming final report and recommendations which will be hugely beneficial to further changes in the Diocese of Wollongong. Specifically, the Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding for the Diocese of Wollongong is working closely with a consultant firm to address the implementation of the relevant recommendations within the Diocese and more broadly. The Diocese of Wollongong is committed to working with other Catholic Church authorities and relevant agencies to implement recommendations.

6. How do we address what has been wrong with the Church Culture which has led to such appalling abuse of children?

It is well established by the Royal Commission; previous national and international inquires and research literature that many complex factors contributed to child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the failure of Catholic Church personnel to respond adequately. The task of addressing the problems within the Church's culture—including a culture of clericalism, which has been at the base of so much abuse—will be hard, and it will need to be continuous. The first step in achieving cultural change is to transparently and comprehensively name what is wrong with the culture.

The leaders of the Church need to ensure best practice when it comes to the supervision, education and ongoing formation for priests, as well as best practice in seminary training and culture—particularly in relation to sexuality and child protection. The Church also needs to provide better support and education on the challenges of maintaining a celibate life, and the challenges, more generally, for the priesthood such as professional and geographic isolation. Structures and systems that provide support, professional development and community to priests is vital to a healthy Church. The pastoral supervision and training program for clergy to be rolled out in 2018 are two initiatives which will address these problems. It is anticipated that the Royal Commission in its Final Report will make clear observations and recommendations regarding the formation and education in seminaries and novitiates.

The formation and training provided in novitiates and seminaries in the past was widely inadequate in the provision of education and support. The final public hearing in relation to the Catholic Church held by the Royal Commission focused on this issue being Case Study 50.

For further material see the Report of Professor Des Cahill and Peter Wilkinson, Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of Literature and Public Inquiry Reports here.

7. Clericalism has been/is the real issue. How can we address it in a real way, give a voice to the lay people of the Church and address the structure and governance of the Church?

Clericalism was a key focus of the Royal Commission particularly in Case Study 50 which looked at those factors that exist within the Catholic Church that have contributed to child sexual abuse and the inadequate response of members of the Catholic Church to complaints of child sexual abuse. The Truth, Justice and Healing Council provided a comprehensive submission to the related Issues Paper 11.

Clericalism is not confined to the clergy. Lay people, including religious brothers and sisters, have contributed to the elevated status given to those people in religious ministry which has so tragically resulted in an abuse of power by some of those in ministry, whether through child sexual abuse or other criminal or harmful behaviour.

We need to change the governance and structure of the Church—the two go hand-in-hand.  Lay leadership and participation, particularly by women, should exist at every level of Catholic Church governance in substantial and practical ways.  We need to incorporate greater transparency and accountability into the way the Church is governed. 

The education and training of lay members of the Church is necessary and valuable to ensure that they, particularly woman, feel empowered to effect cultural change within their own Church. Kath McCormack, Margaret Chittick and Sr Moya Hanlen are inspirational examples of women within the Diocese whose work and commitment have affected—and continue to effect—this fundamental cultural change. The Parish Safeguarding Program is an initiative which will provide training and education to lay members of parishes and give them a voice within the Church.

8. Will the Diocese of Wollongong ever get a final report of the issues/cases in the Wollongong Diocese and how the Church has responded and future directions for us?

The Diocese of Wollongong is committed to the sharing of information about allegations of criminal conduct with those directly involved and with the broader community. The Diocese of Wollongong acts in accordance with the legislation and guidelines which currently exist in NSW. The Diocese intends to publish an annual report on complaints relating to children and vulnerable adults each year commencing in 2018.

The Diocese of Wollongong ensures that those who are subject to claims of child sexual abuse or other criminal conduct are immediately reported to the police and other relevant authorities including the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Office of the Children's Guardian in relation to allegation of criminal conduct involving children. The Department of Family and Community Services are also notified if the allegations relate to a current risk involving a child. The person subject to the allegations of child sexual abuse or other criminal conduct is stood aside whist the allegations are investigated. The Diocese ensures that all allegations of criminal conduct both with respect to children and vulnerable adults are comprehensively investigated. It is only when police pursue a criminal investigation with respect to allegations that the diocesan investigation is put on hold until the conclusion of a police investigation. In circumstances where the subject person held an appointment at the time the allegation was reported, following an investigation by the Diocese and relevant findings the Diocese undertakes a comprehensive risk assessment to determine whether they should continue in their relevant ministerial, employment or volunteer position. The Diocese does not allow people to remain in positions where they have access to children in circumstances where there is an identified risk of harmful conduct towards a child or vulnerable person.

9. Is there a Diocesan Working Party to begin to enact the recommendations from the Royal Commission and the ideas Francis Sullivan has suggested?

The Diocese of Wollongong has a Child Protection Committee who meets approximately once every eight weeks to discuss and make decisions relevant to individual cases together with overall strategy and policy development. The Committee consists of the following members:

  1. Apostolic Administrator Bishop Peter Ingham, who will soon be replaced with Bishop-elect Brian Mascord;
  2. Kath McCormack, previous Director of CatholicCare and current member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors set up by Pope Francis;
  3. Anna Tydd, Director of Professional Standards and Safeguarding;
  4. William Walker, Diocesan Executive Officer and Chancellor
  5. Margaret Chittick, Team Leader, Safety Wellbeing and Professional Services for the Catholic Education Office;
  6. Rosanne Plunkett, Acting Executive Manager Family Services for CatholicCare
  7. Daniel Hopper, Director of Media and Communications

10. What has Truth Justice and Healing done to drive change and what has been agreed to by ACBC and has this action commenced?

The Truth Justice and Healing Council has overseen the engagement of the Church with the Royal Commission for the last five years. During this time, it has facilitated research into the best practice procedures, policies and structures to protect children in the future, made submissions based on this research, and promoted lasting healing for the victims and survivors of previous abuse. Alongside making recommendations to the Royal Commission, the Truth Justice and Healing Council has developed guidelines for Church authorities in relation to issues of significance to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse with the Catholic Church, including civil litigation and redress.

Further to this, the Truth Justice and Healing Council was established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) alongside Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) to both lead and coordinate the Church’s response to and appearances at the Royal Commission's public hearings; participation in policy roundtables; numerous submissions; the Catholic Data Project and various other engagements.  For more see www.tjhcouncil.org.au

11. Are we saying the Australian Church should run by itself, but is somehow still attached to Rome?

The structure and governance that exists within the Catholic Church and the role of the Holy See does not prohibit Catholic Church authorities within Australia, such as the Diocese of Wollongong adopting the best possible systems for ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are protected, and survivors and victims are given the best support available. Case Study 14 of the Royal Commission which investigated the response of the Diocese of Wollongong to the disciplinary action against Gerard Nestor highlighted the integrity of the Diocese of Wollongong in insisting on the permanent withdrawal of Nestor from ministry despite the insistence for his reinstatement by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.

12. Was it coincidental that Bishops moved offending priests from Parish to Parish? Was there discussion at a formal or informal level by the Bishops?

The organisational inadequacies of the individual diocesan power structure have been identified by inquiries both nationally and internationally. Repeatedly inquiries have identified a “culture of secrecy” where senior leaders within the Catholic Church have either colluded or remained silent about complaints in a system that strived to protect the institution and consequently protected the perpetrators of abuse whilst neglecting the victims and survivors. This consequently involved offending priests, religious and lay people being moved from one position to the next within an organisation.

Such secrecy has a long lasting and devastating effect on the survivors of child sexual abuse as well as the institution within which the secrecy exists. Both national and international inquiries have taught us the fundamental importance of information sharing within an organisation (e.g. the Diocese of Wollongong), as well as information sharing between different Catholic and government authorities. Effective information sharing systems are essential to ensure accountability, transparency, and above all else, assess the risk of further work or ministry by people who have been subject to allegations or suspicions of abusive behaviour.

13. What is the possibility that the Seal of Confession will become a debating point of the Commission?

The Seal of Confession has been addressed in the Criminal Justice Report released by the Royal Commission. It is anticipated that the Seal of Confession will be further addressed in the Royal Commission's final report due 15 December 2017.

14. How do we change the future of the Church while Canon Law invests absolute authority in the PP?

Canon law is not the origin or source of authority within the Church. Scripture tells us that Jesus, who used the authority given to him for empowering others for life: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” [Jn. 10.10], shared his authority with the Church by entrusting the Apostles with their mission which continues through the Bishops. [Mt. 28: 16-20] Canon law establishes the scope, defines the limits, determines the way authority is exercised and safeguards against its misuse or abuse.  

Church law does not give priests assigned to the pastoral care of God’s people, be they a parish priest, a parochial administrator or an assistant priest, absolute authority. They have only the authority necessary to carry out their priestly ministry for the community entrusted to them. Priests are to exercise their authority as a service of the community. “You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you” Jesus told his Apostles. [Mk. 10: 42- 43]  

Experience shows that some priests claim canon law authorises them to do or to say what it is that suits them, even though canon law does not make any such provision. Such actions are an abuse of the law. The lack of proper initial and on-going formation in canon law as well as a culture of clericalism play a part in permitting such manner of behaving.

Clergy have a personal obligation to acquire a proper understanding of canon law, especially as it pertains to the exercise of their ministry. Bishops have the duty to ensure the formation of the clergy in canon law and that the laws of the Church are observed, and any misuse or abuse of the law is eradicated.

An issue for the future of the Church is the provision of appropriate educative opportunities for laity and religious to learn about the nature and purpose of canon law, and how it is to be understood and implemented within diocesan and parochial communities.

15. Did the Church culture attract the perpetrators, or did it create them?

Both systemic and individual factors contribute to child sexual abuse. These issues were explored at length in the final hearing of the Royal Commission into the Catholic Church during Case Study 50. The Truth, Justice and Healing Council provided a comprehensive submission to the related Issues Paper 11.

Systems that ensure the screening of candidates together with ongoing assessment and comprehensive education, support, training and formation in the key areas of child protection, sexuality and celibacy are essential in the prevention of harmful sexual behaviour.

16. Did this start in the 1950s (because of other societal changes) or has it always been happening?

The Report of Professor Des Cahill and Peter Wilkinson, Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of Literature and Public Inquiry Reports provides a very long history of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church however in the absence of any structure or culture which enabled the reporting of child sexual abuse, such reporting was almost non-existent until the mid-1990s and accordingly largely related to victims and survivors alleging child sexual abuse from the 1950s onwards because of the nature of delayed reporting by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. The establishment of Towards Healing in the mid-1990s was a major catalyst in the support of victims and survivors to come forward.

For information regarding delayed reporting of claims of child sexual abuse, please refer to the Royal Commission's Catholic Data Report. This Report provided by the Royal Commission provided on average a period of 33 years from the date of alleged incident to the date of reporting.

17. What impact have female religious perpetrators had on the Royal Commission outcomes/case studies?

The Royal Commission's Catholic Data Report showed that of all alleged perpetrators 10 per cent were female and 90 per cent were male. The Report showed that of all non-ordained religious subject to one or more claims of child sexual abuse, 651 (83 per cent) were male religious brothers and 132 (17 per cent) were female religious sisters. Of the claimants that alleged child sexual abuse by one or more religious sister, 58 per cent alleged child sexual abuse in an orphanage of residential facility. For more information on claims of child sexual abuse against female religious, please refer to the Royal Commission's Catholic Data Report.

The vast majority of Royal Commission public hearings examined alleged child sexual abuse by males. However, the Royal Commission's Case Study 26 looked at alleged child sexual abuse in St Joseph's Orphanage, Neerkol in Rockhampton and more specifically, evidence of physical and sexual abuse suffered by residents of the Orphanage by the sisters, priests and former employees at the Orphanage.

18. Why is Pope Francis harbouring Cardinal Pell? Why has he not sent him back to Australia. Is money more important to him?

Cardinal Pell is currently residing in Australia and is awaiting his committal hearing next year on charges of historical child sexual abuse.

19. We are told Cardinal Pell will not have a fair hearing, yet he will have the best defence in the country - no thought is given to the 10 men accusing Pell receiving justice.

The Diocese of Wollongong only has access to the publicly available material both with respect to Cardinal Pell and those witnesses who will be involved in the criminal justice process.

20. Given the resignation of two of the victim representatives on the Pontifical Council, how can we hope for any support for the Roman bureaucracy?

The Pontifical Commission with research and consultation has given the Holy Father a way forward. The Pontifical Commission has consulted with Advisory Survival Panel and it is understood that in 2018 an announcement will be made in relation the role and participation of victims and survivors in the Pontifical Commission.

21. We all want to walk with the victims - support them. How can we?

It is imperative that the Diocese of Wollongong is committed to a set of principles and a framework that provides a supportive environment to those survivors and victims who engage with the Diocese. Each survivor and victim must have equal access and treatment by the Diocese irrespective of their needs. The needs of survivors are infinitely varied with some survivors wanting to continue a close relationship with the Church whilst others understandably want nothing more to do with the Church within which they were abused. It is the right of the survivor or victim to determine their own healing and support. The Diocese is committed to the key recommendations provided by the Royal Commission with respect to redress.

The Diocese of Wollongong continues to develop new support services and systems to help victims and survivors. Since the mid-1990s the Diocese of Wollongong and the broader Australian Catholic Church has worked to put in place new policies and procedures designed to put victims and survivors first and to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.

The Diocese of Wollongong acknowledges the failings and shortcomings of its response in the past and is so grateful to the Royal Commission which offered a unique opportunity to establish credible and robust practices to protect children and to allow victims and survivors to move towards healing.

The Royal Commission's upcoming final report and recommendations will be hugely beneficial to further changes in the Diocese of Wollongong in ensuring the best response to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

22. The Wollongong Diocese is listed as being in the top 5 dioceses of alleged perpetrating priests. Does this statistic include Religious Clergy in the Diocese or only Diocesan Clergy?

The weighted average proportion of alleged perpetrators for the Diocese of Wollongong was calculated based on those diocesan priests who were either ordained to the Diocese or incardinated into the Diocese if they were previously a member of another diocese of religious order. Please see the link here for a more comprehensive explanation of the proportion calculations.

23. I have grave concerns about quoting % statistics. You say Wollongong is in the top 5 offending dioceses with about 13% offenders while Sydney's % is much lower. Yet in real terms Wollongong had 4-6 offending on a base of 32-35 priests while Sydney had somewhere around 24-30 offenders for the same period. Isn't the Sydney result much worse than Wollongong even though their % is much lower?

The weighted average proportion of alleged perpetrators for the Diocese of Wollongong was calculated based on those diocesan priests who were members of the Diocese from 1950 to 2010 with each priest being given a weighting for the number of years they ministered in the 60 year period. For example, a priest who ministered for 5 years was given a weighting of 5 whilst a priest who ministered for 40 years was given a weighting of 40. The percentage is calculated by the numerator (the total number of priests who have been subject to a claim of child sexual abuse) divided by the denominator (the total number of priest members of the Diocese). If only the bare numbers of alleged perpetrator priests were given this would provide no indication of proportion. Please see the link here for a more comprehensive explanation of the proportion calculations.

The Catholic Data Report provided by the Royal Commission also included the number of alleged perpetrators who were identified in claims received by each relevant Catholic Church Authority, namely Annexure A of the Report.

24. To show our integrity/acknowledgement and create a healing process of open dialogue, should we go through the process of the discomfort of naming the perpetrators in our diocese, the parishes/locations that they served in and the years at those parishes/locations and encourage any victims who have not yet come forward to do so?

Information concerning allegations of reportable conduct towards a child, which includes child sexual abuse, will be of concern to many people, from the parents, carers and children who are directly involved to broader concerned members of the community. The NSW Ombudsman has provided clear guidelines to all affected organisations including the Diocese of Wollongong about the form, content and recipients of shared information with respect to allegations of reportable conduct. The NSW Ombudsman fact sheet about the sharing of information with those children, parents and carers who are directly involved can be found here: https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/news-and-publications/publications/fact-sheets/child-protection/providing-advice-about-reportable-conduct-investigations-to-children,-parents-and-carers

The NSW Ombudsman fact sheet about the sharing of information with concerned members of the community who are not directly involved can be found here: https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/news-and-publications/publications/fact-sheets/child-protection/sharing-information-about-reportable-conduct  This fact sheet compliments responsibilities of Police, Department of Family and Community Services and investigative agencies as outlined in the JIRT Local Contact Protocol which was exhibited in several of the Royal Commission public hearings.

Please also refer to the submission of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council in relation to information sharing.

25. How/what juniorate and seminarian process in training led to this situation?

It is well established that the formation and training provided in novitiates and seminaries in the past was widely inadequate in the provision of education and support. The final public hearing in relation to the Catholic Church held by the Royal Commission focused on this issue being Case Study 50.

For further material see the Report of Professor Des Cahill and Peter Wilkinson, Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of Literature and Public Inquiry Reports.

It is anticipated that the Royal Commission in its final report will make clear observations and recommendations regarding the formation and education in seminaries and novitiates.

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