Bullying to Be Included on National Register of Clergy Misconduct

By Jane Still
Anglican Media Melbourne
September 19, 2010

Clergy conduct and church governance were in the spotlight on the second day of General Synod business, covering the widening of the net of information maintained on the National Register for child abuse and misconduct by clergy and church workers, increased flexibility for sentencing by church tribunals, and the requirements around when a diocese objects to a Canon of General Synod.

The National Register, a database which allows authorised officers of the church around the country to be advised of findings of misconduct against clergy, would include, if the amendment is passed, a new category of information regarding bullying against children. Mr Garth Blake SC, who successfully introduced the National Register Canon in 2007, told General Synod that since the Bill's acceptance three years ago, the community had become more aware of the significant damage bullying can inflict on children.

"Protection of children is the core mission of this church," Mr Blake said. Bullying can lead to "psychosomatic symptoms, anxiety disorders, social difficulties, high absenteeism and suicide," he said, referring to the suicide of fourteen year old Alex Wildman in 2008. Earlier this year an inquest found that cyber-bullying played a "significant role" in his decision to end his life.

Also to be included on the National Register are information of adverse findings of notifiable events of sexual misconduct or abuse of children, from bodies other than Church Professional Standards bodies, such as police or other professional bodies; and adverse admissions to church authorities of the same. This provision allows for entries to be made on the register where a complaint has not been made within the church structures.

"Current legislation assumes a complaint will be made within the church; that assumption has proved to be incorrect. A victim may not have had strength to come forward, but the police or a professional body may have knowledge and may have notified director of professional standards," Mr Blake said.

Amendments to the Bill also allow for exclusion from the National Register of some bodies such as schools and welfare agencies. These exclusions make provision for circumstances where the operations of the National Register might cause "significant problems of an industrial relations nature," Mr Blake said, or contravene anti-discrimination laws.

Further debate has been adjourned until later in the week.

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