The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, in its submission to the Victorian parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations, has welcomed any moves designed to strengthen the protection of the vulnerable in the community and to hold those who commit abuse against them to account.

In a 31-page submission to Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee, which is conducting the inquiry, the Diocese said the Church welcomed the Inquiry and its intent. The submission can be found at www.melbourne.anglican.com.au/parliamentary-inquiry.

With the publication of the submission, Archbishop Philip Freier expressed his profound regret for any incidences of abuse by clergy or church workers, and sought to reassure the community of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne’s commitment to respond to complaints promptly and justly.

“On behalf of the Anglican Church in Melbourne, I offer my sincere and profound apologies to all those who have been abused in any way by a member of the clergy or church worker, and assure the community that the Diocese is strongly committed to ensuring that it does all it can to prevent abuse occurring, and if a complaint is made, that it will be handled by a fair and professionally managed process.”

The Church, the submission said, took its responsibilities in the community very seriously and regarded the issues that were the subject of the inquiry as being of great importance.

“It is our belief that as a general principle, a religious organisation should have in place a complaints resolution process that is transparent, independent and commands respect and integrity,” the submission said.

It said the over-riding purpose of such a process should be to protect the community, particularly the vulnerable, with a process that dealt with complaints fairly and as efficiently as possible for both the complainant and respondent.

“In addition to having such a process, it is also important to have in place a recognised system, including codes of conduct, to regulate the fitness of those in ministry’” the submission said. “In the Church’s view both are required to ensure an effective Professional Standards regime.

“Even with a robust system in place, it is important to recognise that some misconduct is of such gravity as to require notification without delay to the Police and/or other authority. The Church has in place a protocol which guides the Church’s Director of Professional Standards and its Professional Standards Committee in such matters.”

The submission outlined issues of transparency, fairness, the duty to proceed with complaints expeditiously, independence, reporting harmful misconduct, clearance (and fitness) for ministry, its Power and Trust Protocol and notifying police and child welfare authorities.

It also gave details of the Church’s response to professional standards, the development of a National Register, the diocesan response to the 1995 Working with Children Act and police checks, the findings of the 2009 National Survey into Child Sexual Abuse within the Anglican Church, the development of Melbourne’s Professional Standards Act 2009 and the Church’s current Professional Standards regime.

The submission includes eight attachments of diocesan and national documents, including the 2006 Australian Anglican Bishops’ Protocol 2006 – Private Confession – Pastoral Guidelines with Special Reference to Child Sexual Abuse and Faithfulness in Service: A national code for personal behaviour and the practice of pastoral ministry by clergy and church workers.

“It is important to note that the Church has been actively addressing these issues in a proactive and systemic manner since 1990 and the fundamental principles that underpinned these early attempts to address increased disclosure within the community remain to undergird the current legislative base and approach,” the submission said.

“The Church takes matters of professional standards and child sex abuse very seriously and ensures that every complaint is examined carefully and transparently… We encourage complainants to come forward, having established protocols and practices for dealing with these matters. Our willingness to hear complaints of misconduct and the existence of processes is advertised and supported by the existence of an independent Office of the Director of Professional Standards.

“The emphasis of our process is pastoral, respecting the rights of both the complainant and respondent, providing counselling and specialist services to both and to any other parties impacted by the complaint or disclosure.

“We value strong co-operative links with government agencies, advocacy groups and believe that we are well regarded in the community for our efforts on matters of Professional Standards.”
 
 

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