June 30, 2020
By Victoria Laurie
The Catholic Education body representing more than 764,000 students in 1,746 Catholic-run schools has welcomed the controversial move by the church hierarchy to disband an agency set up to audit the risk of child sex abuse.
The National Catholic Education Commission says it endorses the church’s decision to create a new national body to replace the role of the Catholic Professional Standards Ltd.
CPSL was established in consultation with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to audit and report on child safety standards within the Catholic Church. It is conducting independent safety audits of 264 Catholic Church entities, including religious orders that were the subject of harrowing sex abuse testimony in the Royal Commission.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference confirmed on Monday it will create a new national body to replace the CPSL by January. Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Conference president, says it will reduce costs to the church and form “a comprehensive response to safeguarding and professional standards needs.”
Supporters of the well-credentialed board of CPSL, headed by former Federal Court judge Geoff Guidice, have raised concerns over whether the new body will retain the strict independence and public reporting of safety audits currently conducted by the CPSL.
Catholic Education’s executive director Jacinta Collins says she welcomes the creation of a new single entity “to help provide streamlined support to Catholic schools in keeping children and vulnerable adults safe.
“The Royal Commission identified the need for institutions to have stronger leadership and governance processes to address child safety failings,” Ms Collins said.
“A consolidated national office will provide greater clarity and shine a light on the areas that still need to be addressed.”
John Warhurst, chairman of Concerned Catholics Canberra-Goulburn, says the Bishops Conference has not provided Catholics with any detail about how the new national body will operate.
“It’s still opaque, and there must be transparency around this whole area of standards.”
“It appears the new body, as an agency of the ACBC, will not be legally independent,” he said. “It’s a major issue that needs to be discussed and explained.”
Peter Johnstone, convener of the Coalition for Catholic Church Reform, says Catholic parents should be asking questions about the adequacy of the new arrangement for safeguarding safety standards in church schools.
“It could permit a return to the lack of accountability that led to the church’s cover-up of child sexual abuse,” he said.
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