I’ve been poking around a bit, with help from friends, to see what sort of track record we have in the Sydney Diocese.
The big question, in my view, is not ‘have there been crimes’ or ‘will there be?’? In this world we live in, for any large group of humans (such as a diocese) the answer will surely be ‘yes’.
The question is, when a child-abuse crime is committed, what happens then?
Two things matter: the reality and the public appearance. This post is largely about the reality.
What happens after a crime is committed? The answer to that has changed over time: if you go back thirty years it’s pretty grim.
But here’s some things that have gone or are going on:
- The lifting of a statute of limitations designed to protect clergy: there used to be a twelve month limit on disciplinary action after a crime was alleged to have occured. That meant by the time the wheels of discipline ground around, the gong had sounded, the perp was immune. Bad statute. Seems it was overturned by Synod in 1996. Now an abuser can be brought to book years down the track. Not sure if there’s any limitation now?
- The Professional Standards Unit (PSU): as Michael W has been saying here lately, this is an important step towards getting our house in order: a semi-independent body designed to protect and support victims. Also to promote awareness of child safety issues through training sessions across the diocese. Set up on Peter Jensen’s watch, I believe. I’ve met the PSU guys and let me tell, you, they are on the side of the victim. And then some!
- The PSU has a chaplain employed to care for abuse victims and their families.
- Also a Pastoral Care & Assistance Scheme including counselling provided to victims and paid for by the Diocese.
- There is a diocesan Abuse Report HotLine. Makes reporting easier. Also provides advice.
- The Archbishop is willing to meet with victims, and one victim writes of how he took her side in the matter. This was not so much the case in the past. Generally meetings were refused.
- For the first time in the history of the diocese, clergy have been defrocked in the past decade. 2 that I’ve heard of. For child abuse which had occurred years earlier.
Much of this stuff is fairly new. We still must answer for our past. But it’s good stuff, isn’t it. That’s quite a bit of machinery in place to promote awareness (prevention), to help victims and deal with abusers among the clergy. Seems like good structures, too. Being semi-independent gives the PSU the chance to change the culture and cut across vested interests in the ‘establishment’.
Overall the above represents a shift in the balance away from protecting the clergy, towards protecting the victim. As a church minister, this is scarey for me (someone could make an accusation any time), but it seems to be in line with the gospel of Jesus: stand with the weak.
And consider this: it seems the number of incidents of clergy child abuse in the diocese has been relatively small, thank God. This gear has been set up as much pre-emptively as reactively. Our leaders have put stuff in place before the pressure to do so became overwhelming. That’s good too. Suggests a sincere change of attitude, not just damage-control.
None of this will stop determined abusers from a first offence. But it may stop them from a second or third one, and should help to stop the damage spiralling out of control where an offence has been committed.
I feel pretty happy about what I’ve discovered. At the level of realities, seems we’re on a good track. Not sure what more, if anything, needs to be done. Of course PR is another matter…