A graceful day for His Grace
Towards Healing works well with difficult issue
By Kathleen Carmody
The Catholic Church may be copping a hammering in the media on the issue of sexual abuse, yet according the Church’s National Committee for Professional Standards, Towards Healing – the national protocol for dealing with sexual abuse – is working well.
Towards Healing, a set of principles and procedures responding to complaints of sexual abuse against personnel of the Catholic Church in Australia, was implemented in 1996 in response to the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church, and reviewed again last year.
Its aims are seven-fold: a commitment to strive for truth, humility, healing for the victims, assistance to other persons affected, an effective response to the accused and those who are guilty of abuse, and prevention of abuse.
Towards Healing has been adopted by each diocese in Australia, with the exception of Melbourne, which has its own procedures set up one month earlier in 1996 by the then newly appointed Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr George Pell.
According to Sr Angela Ryan, executive officer of the Church’s National Committee for Professional Standards, sexual abuse is a very difficult issue.
“We are learning and doing our best to deal with each case and are willing to constantly learn and refine the protocol,”
Sr Angela told The Catholic Weekly.
“We’re confident it’s working as well as we can do it. We are trying to do it to the best of our ability.
“The review picked up on some of the problems from the beginning, so it was revised. And we’re constantly trying to learn how to help people who have been abused.”
Towards Healing recognises that a compassionate response to victims must be the first priority in all cases of abuse. The protocol outlines strict guidelines to be followed in the event of complaints and aims to make people feel as comfortable as possible about making complaints against personnel of the Church.
Describing it as a pastoral approach, Sr Angela said Towards Healing put the needs of victims first.
“There is a facilitation process where the Church authority and the abused meet with a mediator to consider the needs of the person who has been abused and those needs may include counselling, education (and) compensation,” Sr Angela said.
Towards Healing clearly states that if a complaint concerns a criminal offence, Church authorities shall not jeopardise the right of the police or other civil authorities to investigate the matter and to take appropriate action.
When a complaint concerns an alleged crime the complainant will be advised of his or her right to take the matter to the police, and if desired, assistance will be provided to do so.
“Where there was a criminal case we would always encourage people to go to the police,” Sr Angela said. “The church protocol only comes into place if the people are not willing to go to the police.”
An integral aspect of the protocol, she added, is prevention. People who enter the ministry or religious life are carefully assessed for any possible tendencies towards sexual abuse. With greater awareness of the issue, has come a greater recognition of the symptoms.
Sr Angela said that Towards Healing, combined with the implementation of a ministerial code of conduct, Integrity in Ministry, has brought about greater protection for everybody.
There have been calls from some quarters for a Royal Commission into the Church’s handling of sexual abuse.
However, Sr Angela said it wasn’t a matter for the Church to decide.
“If the government wants to set up a Royal Commission that’s their decision – we would go along with it,” she said.
“At this stage we are dealing with it in the best way we can.”