On Thursday, the Catholic bishops of Australia and two other Catholic entities launched Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited, a company charged with the safeguarding of children against sexual abuse by clergy.
The launch of the agency comes three years after the release of a 2017 Royal Commission report on child sex abuse in the country's institutions. The new agency was created by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) and the Association of Ministerial PJPs (Public Juridic Persons).
“We have discerned what was working well and what needed to change, and we are convinced this new national agency will make the Church’s work more coordinated, accountable and best prepared to ensure the safety of people in Catholic settings,” CRA president Br. Peter Carroll FMS said in a December 3 statement marking the launch.
The new agency, also known as ACSL, “will reduce duplication and consolidate work previously undertaken by Catholic Professional Standards Limited, the Implementation Advisory Group and the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards,” the statement noted.
According to a fact sheet on the ACSL, while it is “hoped” that all Australian Catholic entities will subscribe to the new group, it will not be mandatory. Those entities that subscribe to the ACSL will be expected to comply with its safeguarding standards, conduct reviews and audits of their abuse prevention systems at least every three years, and provide ACSL with a copy of their reviews, which will be published on the ACSL’s website.
The establishment of the ACSL is one of many reforms being made by the Church in Australia after the release of the Royal Commission report, which found serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in the Catholic Church and other major secular and religious institutions.
Other changes made in the wake of the report include a program to compensate victims, and an obligation on the part of clergy and religious to report abuse accusations to their local ordinary or metropolitan archbishop.
The Australian bishops' conference responded positively to nearly all the Royal Commission's recommendations, but has defended the sanctity of the confessional seal.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic bishop’s conference, said that the safeguarding agency was established after an extensive consultation process with people both inside and outside of the Church, including abuse survivors and their advocates.
“Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited will build on the strong work of the previous bodies, including in demanding accountability of Catholic entities and in requiring independent audits and reviews of adherence to the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards,” he said.
Eva Skira is the chair of Association of Ministerial PJPs, a group whose members include canonical stewards of Church ministries in areas such as education, health care, disability and social services.
Skira said the group supported the creation of the new agency and is “deeply committed to child protection and safeguarding in our various contexts.”
“We are very pleased to be collaborators with the Bishops Conference and CRA, which have made significant progress in recent years,” Skira added.
Carroll said the inclusion of the Association of Ministerial PJPs in the creation of the safeguarding agency would help to extend its impact into more broadly Catholic contexts.
“Our focus must always be on the safety of all those who come into contact with the Church,” he said.