Catholic Church moves to axe sex-abuse watchdog

The Australian

June 29, 2020

By Victoria Laurie

The Catholic Church is quietly closing an agency set up to audit risks of sex abuse and enforce new standards of child protection in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Church reform groups say Catholic Professional Standards Ltd is being dismantled amid concern that old habits of secrecy and non-transparency are creeping back into the church.

CPSL was formed in early 2017 to act on 60 recommendations by the royal commission, which heard harrowing evidence of child sex abuse and cover-ups.

The new body was instructed by the powerful Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to set national standards for the treatment of children within the church, and conduct independent audits of 264 Catholic Church entities, including all archdioceses, religious orders and lay groups.

But halfway through its audit process, and with only one of seven archdioceses having­ delivered its safety audit, the archbishops have said CPSL will be replaced with “a new national safeguarding entity” in January.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, confirmed the CPSL would be replaced by a new body as a “comprehensive response by the church to safeguarding and professional­ standards needs”. He said the new body would continue the audit process “with appropriate independence”, and oversee a new national protocol to respond to complaints and allegations.

Australian Coalition for Catholic Church Reform convener Peter Johnstone said the church appeared to be taking back control “from an independent body of expert­ members of the laity providing­ independent scrutiny and advice”. “One must ask if this is back to business as usual, of the kind that led to the cover-up of child sexual abuse,” he said.

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