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Catholic Professional Standards responds: questions welcome but Doumit scenario ‘quite an overreach’

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Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Sr Ruth Durick and Archbishop Denis Hart at the launch of Catholic Professional Standards.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Sr Ruth Durick OSU and Archbishop Denis Hart at the launch of Catholic Professional Standards.

Monica Doumit’s opinion piece (‘Careful Preparation of new standards body can avoid knotty future problems’) on the Church’s new Catholic Professional Standards (CPS) company was written at least six months too early.

We agree that as CPS is developed and moves from the starting blocks to full stride many serious questions need to be asked and answered.

You will have read in The Catholic Weekly the week before last that CPS has been set up by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA).

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Its mission is to promote the dignity, welfare and safety of all people who come into contact with the Church and its works, especially the young and the vulnerable.

CPS marks a significant change in how the Church in Australia operates. The company will establish, implement, govern and audit professional standards. It will also publish the findings of these audits.

But for Monica Doumit to pose a scenario in which, because of its existence, the authority of a hypothetical bishop is undermined, lay ministry in a parish collapses, parents withdraw their children from a local school and the ABC’s 7.30 lays siege to a church is, in our view and at this very early stage, quite an overreach.

Her piece seems to assume that the many difficult questions involved in setting up this new company will be ignored. This is not the case. In fact, the leaders of the Church and many others have been wrestling with the key questions concerning CPS for close to a year now.

In six months’ time we will have a clearer picture of the company and how it will operate. And the concerns Monica Doumit has voiced will be addressed.

We need to be clear: there is no suggestion that Church leaders will suddenly be confronted with what is probably the single most important development in the way we deal with the issues around protecting children and vulnerable adults without them understanding how it works and what the implications are for them.

Before any new standards, any audits or anything is published by CPS, there will be extensive consultation. Our education, welfare and health agencies will all have a say. Priests, Brothers, Sisters and the wider Catholic community will have a voice.

When CPS hits the road there will be no surprises. It will be as transparent, as accountable and as accessible as it hopes all participating dioceses and congregations will be.

CPS is a first for the Catholic Church in Australia and unique in the Catholic world. It is a considered, pastoral response that reflects the respect for human life that is central to the call of the Gospel and the life of the Church.

It is a decisive step forward for the Church as we move beyond the Royal Commission and as we look with authenticity to the core of all we do in the community. CPS will endeavour to ensure that all people in the Church and all engaged with the Church, whether it be in liturgical, ministerial, social or pastoral ways, will be treated respectfully, professionally and as the Gospel demands.

It will direct and govern best practice for all Church agencies to lead in the area of safeguarding children and vulnerable people.

This step forward is about consistency, transparency and accountability through the establishment of, and compliance with, national professional standards in the Catholic Church.

This is nothing short of best practice in a world in which we have seen institutions both Catholic and others fail dramatically.

While the company has already been established, time will now be taken to consider carefully the appointment of key staff to undertake the work of the company.

The company will be governed by a board of directors which will be made up of lay people. The board will appoint the chief executive officer who will manage the day-to-day work of the company.

Many Catholic ministries, such as education, health care and aged care services, already have strict accreditation procedures in relation to the protection of children and vulnerable adults. The new company will not be duplicating these processes.

If any ministries or groups within the Catholic Church currently do not have governing standards, then these will be developed.

Care will be taken to develop standards which enable both the protection of children and vulnerable adults and the continuance of the ministries of the Church.

Monica Doumit’s piece was a valid contribution to the discussions around CPS. It voiced the questions some people have about its establishment. Such concerns need to be addressed and they will be.

For Catholic Professional Standards to achieve its mission, which we are confident all people of good will would support, then it must have the support of the whole Church.

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