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New governance report addresses Church culture that allowed abuse to occur

Abuse hearing: The review was recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and was overseen by the Church’s Implementation Advisory Group (IAG). Photo: CNS/AAP

CULTURAL practices within the Church that have “nurtured” the abuse of children and other vulnerable people are under review in a new report into the governance of parishes and dioceses in Australia.

The 208-page report released on August 21, titled The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia, includes 86 recommendations for Church governance, with a focus on leadership that involves increased “transparency, accountability, inclusion, participation and diversity”.

These include increased appointments of lay people in senior management roles, with an emphasis on female employment, changes to the selection and formation of priest candidates, and for “a halt on clericalism” offering lay people more opportunities to contribute to the vision of parishes and dioceses.

There is also a recommendation to improve leadership formation, regular diocesan synods at the conclusion of the 2020 Plenary Council, further development of Catholic media, and the full implementation of a registry which identifies priests and male religious who are considered suitable to minister to children.

Much of the report stems from an observation of Pope Benedict XVI, who in a 2012 address of the Sixth Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action, said lay people were not “collaborators” of the clergy but “rather as people who are really ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and acting”.

The review was recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and was overseen by the Church’s Implementation Advisory Group (IAG).

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia released a joint-statement following the release of the report.

“The Light from the Southern Cross makes an important and substantial contribution to the life and mission of the Church in Australia, and the bishops and leaders of religious institutes thank those responsible for its preparation and delivery,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said following the release of the report.

“I encourage anyone who wishes to read The Light from the Southern Cross to start with the accompanying reading guide… and read the whole report, rather than just the recommendations,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

CRA president Marist Brother Peter Carroll said the IAG has “ably” assisted the Catholic Church in responding to the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

“As leaders in the Catholic Church responsible for hundreds of Church entities, CRA and the Bishops Conference are working through numerous governance reforms and practices as outlined by the recommendations of the Royal Commission,” Br Carroll said.

“I am hopeful that The Light from the Southern Cross will illumine a future path of contemporary good governance for the Church in Australia, and possibly beyond.”

Archbishop Coleridge said any feedback on the final report should be directed to the local bishop of each diocese, who would bring it to the Conference’s November plenary meeting.

The Light from the Southern Cross and the associated reading guide can be found on the Bishops Conference website.

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