AS Queensland marks Child Protection Week from September 4-10, the Church is taking decisive new policy steps to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.
As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse exposes the past failures of the Church, it has also spurred authorities to roll out “best practice” policy measures to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults.
“Sadly, I can’t give fail-safe guarantees that no harm will ever come to the most vulnerable among us, but the new policy is a decisive step in the right direction for the Archdiocese of Brisbane,” Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said in a video entitled New Directions in Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults.
“It will help to heal the wounds of the past and make sure, as far as we can, that nothing similar happens again.
“The policy includes important elements identified by the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.”
Professional Standards Office (Queensland), headed by former police inspector Mark Eustance, now handles an important part of child protection; complaints of inappropriate behaviour levelled at clergy, religious and other paid and voluntary Church personnel.
“Everyone has an extended obligation to care for and protect children and vulnerable people – everybody, absolutely everybody,” Mr Eustance, a 27-year veteran with the Queensland Police Service, who joined the PSO two-and-a-half years ago, said.
“For me with my background there are no grey areas. We, as responsible adults involved in a church, have an extended obligation.
“Schools have all got mandatory reporting requirements to the police and other authorities if they reasonably believe there is a student at the risk of significant harm. No matter who that perpetrator might be, they are required to report.
“We will assist and advise the schools if they need it.”
Mr Eustance is keen to share his police knowledge gained working in remote and indigenous communities, investigations, education and training, professional practice, crime prevention and as a senior policy officer.
“There seems to be a focus on the persistent, deviant stranger. But anybody has the potential to abuse others, given the right circumstances. We are all flawed human beings,” he said.
“All the research statistics show that you are more likely to be abused by someone you know and trust – that’s the truth – not the stranger.”
Despite a heavy workload carried out by a small case management team covering all five Queensland dioceses, Mr Eustance said he understood what parishioners and parents expected from his office.
“I think they expect a professional response to complaints and allegations of abuse by Church personnel,” he said.
“And they should expect from our office a level of independence.
Mr Eustance said education was key.
He travels around Queensland sharing the Church protection procedural and operational policies with parishioners, parents and teachers.
“Sharing the message is our number-one priority. We will drop everything if someone wants us to come and speak to them,” he said.
Mr Eustance is candid when asked how long it will take to win back Church credibility.
“I think it will take generational change,” he said. “My experience with the police service and the Fitzgerald Inquiry – it took generational change. It was a consistent and persistent effort to change that culture.”
The Church is also rolling out an online Australian register for priests – an internal and secure check of status that will be required for all individuals to exercise ministry in a new jurisdiction.
The register will require Catholic Church authorities to confirm that the priest is in good standing.
By Mark Bowling