Bishops Lead National Child Protection Push

By Anthony Barich
The Record
September 8, 2010

Australia's Bishops have taken a leading role in supporting and promoting a national campaign to combat sexual abuse around the country.

Signalling "significant positive action in child protection", the Australian Bishops' National Committee for Professional Standards announced on 2 Sepember its support for White Balloon Day during Child Protection Week from 5-12 September - run by Bravehearts, Autralia's leading child protection advocacy group to "help educate, empower and protect our kids".

During this week, 1,342 Catholic parishes and 1,688 Catholic schools around Australia were invited to display white balloons on 7 and 12 September to show their support for the protection of young people through White Balloon Day.

Brigidine Sister Angela Ryan, protection and prevention officer of the Bishops' National Committee for Professional Standards, told The Record that "good clergy and lay working in the Church" have also been tarred by the sexual abuse scandals of the past.

However, she believes regaining that trust may not necessarily be a long-term process as "there are so many good priests, Religious and lay teachers working in the Church today".

Child Protection Week also aims to ensure there are codes of conduct and protocols for safe environment in Catholic schools and parishes, she said.

Sr Ryan stressed that "it's the role of everybody in the parish to be alert and aware, and we need to learn from the past so that we protect all our people into the future".

In part, the abuse was so widespread in the past, she said, because "I don't think people in the Church or in wider society had an understanding of the long term effects of sexual abuse", Sr Ryan told The Record.

"In the past, if a child said something (claiming to have been abused), so many parents didn't necessarily believe them; now they would believe what people say," Sr Ryan said.

"The lack of trust extends beyond the clergy to all adults, and parents are much more protective because of what's happened in the past."

Bravehearts' founder Hetty Johnston said in a 2 September statement that the Australian Bishops' lead involvement in White Balloon Day now in its 14th year - marks publicly their active involvement in being part of changing the culture of silence around child sexual assault.

"The Catholic Church in Australia has taken the lead in the Churches of Australia in changing the culture of silence and secrecy that has historically accompanied child sexual assault," Mrs Johnston said.

"I am delighted to finally realise what has been a long term goal for the Bravehearts' organisation, and hope this signals a new way forward for all churches globally.

"We applaud the Catholic Church of Australia for their bold stance and look forward to a long and effective working relationship in providing world class protection for children no matter in what environment or culture."

Thousands of Anglican, Uniting, Independent and other Christian denominational schools and churches will join the Catholic Church for White Balloon Day.

Thousands of events are also planned across the country involving police, government departments, community groups, business groups, child care centres, churches and individuals.

This year's theme of White Balloon day is Working together to stop child abuse wherever it occurs.

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