Australian bishops release new sexual abuse protocol

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New benchmark for the Church in place from February aims at promoting consistency and compassion, says Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

New benchmark for the Church in place from February

A new national protocol for responding to historical child sexual abuse and any new allegations in the Catholic Church will be both more compassionate and just, says Archbishop Mark Coleridge, head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

The new framework to be implemented from 1 February is intended as a national benchmark forming a consistent approach for Catholic authorities and entities in investigating, compensating and providing ongoing care for people alleging child sexual abuse and survivors.

Calling it “an important step forward”, Archbishop Coleridge thanked those involved in preparing the “thorough process”.

“The new protocol offers a trauma-informed approach to supporting those who have been betrayed in Church settings,” the archbishop said, while it “demands an approach from the Church that is compassionate and just”. “It also insists upon respect for each individual’s personal story and circumstances.”

“The new protocol offers a trauma-informed approach to supporting those who have been betrayed in Church settings”  – Archbishop Mark Coleridge

The Bishops Conference formally adopted the protocol last November following two years of consultation within and outside the Church, including with survivors and their advocates. It also draws upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It will replace the Church’s current two protocols, Towards Healing and The Melbourne Response, which were both established in 1996 although these will continue to be in use until the end of the year or the conclusion of matters currently being managed.

Karen Larkman, director of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office, welcomed the change.

Karen Larkman
Karen Larkman, head of Sydney’s Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office, welcomed the new protocol.
PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“We’re very pleased to see the implementation of the new Protocol as this will provide a consistent trauma-informed response within the Catholic Church in Australia to survivors of abuse, as well as further promoting a culture of preventing harm to children and adults at risk of harm,” she said.

“Importantly, it puts in place a process of transparency and continual improvement for ongoing care for survivors of abuse.

“This really is a significant step forward and we feel very positive about the future of safeguarding in the Church and its accompaniment of survivors.”

Archbishop Coleridge acknowledged that the current protocols had been criticised “in large part because of inconsistent or incomplete application” and said that the Church continues to work hard to strengthen the safeguards that have been put in place in more recent years.

As well as outlining principles and processes for responding to concerns and allegations of abuse, whether historical or contemporary, the protocol also offers guidance on how to engage with those affected by abuse, he said.

The 67-page National Response Protocol can be accessed via the Bishops Conference website at: https://www.catholic.org.au/nationalresponseprotocol

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