The Catholic Church in Australia has welcomed Pope Francis’ new document on the investigation and reporting of abuse within Church settings, which enshrines some measures long in place in Australia but also makes new provisions that will give greater impetus to the Church’s safeguarding efforts in this country.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who represented the Australian bishops at the meeting of leaders of episcopal conferences at the Vatican in February, said the publication of Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You are the Light of the World) is the latest concrete outcome following that unprecedented gathering.
“The release of this document less than three months after the meeting shows that, for Pope Francis, the updating of universal Church law on the investigation and reporting of abuse against children and other vulnerable people is a real priority,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“It’s a priority the Australian bishops share. Now all bishops conferences and religious congregations around the world will have to meet more rigorous standards. That’s a good thing.”
During the ACBC’s biannual meeting last week, the bishops discussed the Church’s ongoing response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including reforms related to those Pope Francis has introduced regarding accountability for Church leaders.
“While Catholic leaders in Australia have been responding to the sexual abuse for three decades, we’re continually reviewing our policies and procedures to make Catholic settings the safest possible place for children and other vulnerable people. This new document from the Pope will be a great help in that,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Archbishop Coleridge said the Church in Australia will continue to implement protocols that go beyond the requirements of the motu proprio.
“For example, reporting allegations to the police and other government authorities has been part of our Church practice for more than two decades. We remain committed to having the most effective practices possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Catholic Religious Australia and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference announced that a panel of experts has been convened to conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of Catholic dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and lay participation.
The review was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse after the Commission concluded that the governance and management of some dioceses and parishes contributed to the child sexual abuse crisis.
Among other organisations, the review will consider the approaches to governance of Catholic health, community services and education agencies – as suggested by the Royal Commission.
Archbishop Coleridge said the review of governance will examine how Church structures – some of which were devised centuries ago – can be improved.
Monica Cavanagh rsj, president of Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) added that “The Royal Commission uncovered some practices that could have exacerbated the abuse of children and hampered the response to that tragic reality.
“The establishment of this panel is another step in our serious response to the Royal Commission,” she said, “and will help establish a way forward for the Church into the future.”
The panel has produced a progress report for the presidents of ACBC and CRA and will produce an interim report by the end of October. A final report should be provided to CRA and the ACBC in the first half of 2020.
See the members of the panel here.
The governance review project plan can be found here.