New child protection office to deliver ‘more than words’ but ‘action and outcomes’

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has announced the creation of a new child protection office, saying it was a part of his determination to deliver “more than words”, but “action and outcomes”.

The new Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office (SMIO) will be headed by Karen Larkman, who has more than 25 years’ experience in child protection and family services.

It will work to make sure the Church achieves “best practice when dealing with child protection, education, training, working with parishes and responding pastorally to survivors of abuse”, according to a statement released by the archdiocese.

The SMIO will work in conjunction with the vicar general (an office currently filled by Fr Gerald Gleeson), and will work closely with government statutory bodies, including the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian.

On becoming archbishop last November, Archbishop Fisher said the safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults would be a priority.

Speaking about the new office, Archbishop Fisher said it would provide innovative and compassionate pathways to assist victims and protect the vulnerable.

“We will also focus on the professional integrity of clergy and church workers and all those engaged in activities involving children.

“We must deliver more than words. We must deliver action and outcomes. I think our new director will help us greatly in delivering those outcomes.”

Ms Larkman has previously worked in the UK in the area of child protection and also for the British Forces in Cyprus.

More recently, she was a general manager and designated child protection officer for CatholicCare and also led a working party for a Royal Commission case study into abuse in Out-of-Home Care.

The announcement comes two weeks after the archdiocese published its response to the Ellis case study of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, involving Sydney man John Ellis, who was abused by Fr Aidan Duggan from 1974 to 1979.

Echoing the apology issued by the former archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, the archdiocese response said:

“The archdiocese accepts the criticisms regarding its response, and that of the Professional Standards Office (NSW), to Mr Ellis.

“In particular, the archdiocese accepts that it failed Mr Ellis in responding to his Towards Healing complaint and that in defending litigation brought by Mr Ellis, it did not adequately take account of Mr Ellis’ pastoral and other needs as a victim of child sexual abuse …

“The archdiocese repeats Cardinal Pell’s apology to Mr Ellis. Lessons have been learned by the archdiocese since Mr Ellis’ matter was litigated and significant changes have been effected to ensure that the mistakes Cardinal Pell referred to in his apology will not occur again.”

The full response is available here (https://sydneycatholic.org/justice/royalcommission/ArchdiocesesReviewofEllisCaseStudy.asp)

Ms Larkman will begin her role as the director of the Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity Office on 16 November, 2015.