Ecumenical conference calls for thorough & ongoing reform in churches


Catholic Religious played a significant role in a recent ecumenical conversation on the task of rebuilding and renewal for Australian churches following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Health and Integrity in Church and Ministry conference was conducted at the University of Divinity  in Melbourne from August 27–29 and was the first ecumenical gathering of its kind to discuss the way forward for the churches in Australia.

Health and Integrity in Church and Ministry Conference was sponsored by four leading Catholic religious institutes – the Franciscan Friars, the Passionists, the Redemptorists, and the Blessed Sacrament Fathers – along with the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Yarra Theological Union, Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers, Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers, and a number of private donors.

The conference featured 50 presenters and panellists drawn from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe, and the United States, and was attended by approximately 270 delegates, including church members and leaders, academics, clergy and religious, ministers and church workers, survivors of child sexual abuse and their advocates, and groups advocating church reform.

The communique issued at the conclusion of the conference called for thorough-going reform in several areas.

“We the People of God say ‘NO’ to child sexual abuse and to the institutional circumstances that led to its cover-up, and we demand the removal of any conditions which put children and vulnerable adults at risk,” the communique says.

“The criminal sexual abuse of children in religious institutions has been a national and international tragedy. We hope for personal and community healing, we express solidarity with the victims of child sexual abuse, their families, and affected communities, and pledge to continue to learn from survivors and their advocates.

“We affirm that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been a gift to the entire Australian community, including the churches, and that it presents the churches with a unique opportunity for revisioning and renewal. The churches share a common guilt and shame in relation to child sexual abuse.

They must accept the Royal Commission’s recommendations in full. But they must go beyond minimum standards of implementation, to embrace a thorough-going reformation of their theology, structures, governance, leadership and culture, and in so doing return to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.”

The conference participants said they look forward to an even broader multi-faith conversation and they undertook to repeat the conference in some form, in solidarity with survivors, and to build on the interest groups and networks of church leaders, theologians and social scientists, researchers, practitioners and faithful which were established at the Melbourne conference.

The conference called on all Christian churches should participate fully in the national apology to victims of institutional child sexual abuse on 22 October 2018 and to consider instituting a shared National Day of Remembrance.

Read the full communique here .

Read the University of Divinity media release here.

Image: University of Divinity website.