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Safeguarding audit rolling out across Brisbane Archdiocese ensuring child-safe institutions

Audit: Brisbane’s Office for Safeguarding Services director Mark Eustance.

THE Archdiocese of Brisbane is to undergo a groundbreaking full audit of its safeguarding practices starting next month.

It means that 25 per cent of Brisbane’s 98 parishes and archdiocesan offices are likely to be audited – the first archdiocese in Australia to do so.

“I welcome it,” Brisbane’s director of the Office for Safeguarding Services Mark Eustance said.

“It’s a very proactive and positive thing to do.

“Hopefully it will provide us with a baseline against the new National Catholic Safeguarding Standards and allow us to develop a blueprint for where we need to change and improve – that’s important.”

The audit will be undertaken by Catholic Professional Standards Limited, set up by the Church leadership in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

CPSL operates independently from the Catholic Church, with a brief to develop national safeguarding standards, to audit the compliance of Church authorities with those standards, and to publicly report the results. 

Mr Eustance said he believed Brisbane’s safeguarding practices were in good order, “keeping in mind that the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards are completely new”.

“There are areas I think we do very well in, but there are gaps and needs that we have identified and I don’t mind being audited on that basis.

“Auditing is not about a pass or fail mark – it’s about identifying needs, achieving progress towards compliance and capacity-building.”

Recommendations handed down by the Royal Commission in December 2017, stressed the importance of creating child-safe institutions through prevention.

“This could make it harder for people to groom and abuse children, increasing the likelihood of grooming behaviour and abuse being identified and reported, and making it easier for victims to disclose abuse,” the commission’s final report stated.

“Well-designed and appropriately tailored prevention initiatives could help to mobilise all community members to be agents of change. 

“Through building knowledge and capacity, parents, volunteers, professionals and others could become better equipped to recognise and counter problematic attitudes and behaviour that put children at risk, and know how to respond to warning signs and indicators.”

The Archdiocese of Brisbane published its own Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults Policy in 2015.

Within the policy the archdiocese holds that children and vulnerable adults are a gift from God with an intrinsic right to dignity of life, respect and protection from harm.

The 2018-2020 Safeguarding Strategy includes commitments to:

l prioritising the safety and well-being of children and vulnerable adults;

l responding promptly and effectively to abuse concerns and complaints; and

l a zero-tolerance approach to abuse.

The archdiocesan safeguarding foundation principle is that “safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility”.

“I’m confident the majority of people across the archdiocese have a genuine interest in making sure their own environments, whether local parish, faith community or service, are safe for children and vulnerable adults,” Mr Eustance said.

He said in the past 12 months more than 3000 archdiocesan clergy, staff and volunteers had completed face-to-face safeguarding training, and 100 parishes and faith communities had taken part in a safeguarding “health check”.

Mr Eustance said that “in response to feedback, in February this year the Office launched an online Safeguarding Resource Hub where training, information and useful awareness-raising resources can be found”.

“The hub has already had over 3000 individual visitors,” he said.

The hub also has an online survey where feedback on the archdiocesan approach to safeguarding can be provided. 

The hub can be found at www.safeguardingaob.com.au.

Fr Ryan is a guide to new generations of shepherds

FOR the past few years, experienced Brisbane priest, Fr Dan Ryan has been quietly guiding younger priests, including those from overseas, on an innovative program to develop parish leaders.

“We’ve seen a need for it, and they get a lot out of it,” Fr Ryan (pictured), who is vicar for clergy and dean of Brisbane South, including Sunnybank, the thriving heart of the city’s ethnic communities, said.

The training is directed towards new pastors, and those who will be pastors soon.

It is about how to run a modern parish, particularly the importance now given to safeguarding and workplace health and safety, as well as the relationships with Catholic schools, dealing with parish finances and engaging with pastoral councils.

Fr Ryan also works with younger priests, honing their skills delivering homilies.

“In one sense it’s about learning to be a better priest, someone who is in touch with his people, pastoral, and close to the needs of the parish – a ministry of presence,” he said. 

The program is directed towards young priests, building on their training at Queensland’s Holy Spirit Seminary and, in the case of priests from Nigeria and India, after they have spent a year getting accustomed to living in Brisbane.

Brisbane archdiocese has 16 priests from Umuahia diocese, Nigeria, and 18 from Kerala, India, and Fr Ryan said their experience of the Church in Australia could be culturally different to their homelands – some were used to Masses with attendances reaching thousands of people.

In light of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, Fr Ryan said safeguarding and workplace health and safety were particularly important training elements.

Fr Ryan said one of the main issues a parish priest must contend with today was the secularisation “of our world”.

“We face it every day. Religion is a person’s right,” he said.

“And yet we are living in a time when not a lot of people want to defend their faith.”

While church attendances may be dwindling in some parishes, Fr Ryan, points to the “liveliness” of many parishes in Brisbane.

His own Sunnybank parish is a cultural melting pot that regularly attracts packed Masses with weekend congregations of 2000 people.

“It’s a real multicultural society here at Sunnybank,” he said.

Fr Ryan’s training program for developing parish leaders is conducted with assistance from the director of the Clergy Support Office James O’Connor over several days at the Santa Teresa Spirituality Centre in Ormiston.

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