On 3 December 2020, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in combination with Catholic Religious Australia and the Association of Ministerial PJPs, announced the establishment of Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd (ACSL).
The announcement described ACSL as a “consolidation” of pre-existing agencies and functions, including Catholic Professional Standards Ltd, the Implementation Advisory Group, the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards, and the Australian Catholic Ministry Register. ACSL will “provide a richer data source in order to manage and identify risk and be clearer about where energy and resources should be directed to continue to improve safeguarding efforts”.
However, the establishment of ACSL is more than consolidation. It marks the beginning of the next phase of the Church’s journey in rebuilding trust, both internally with parishioners, families who receive services and ministry from Church bodies, and the multitude of people who are in paid and unpaid work for the Church, as well as externally, with the broader community including people impacted by abuse.
ACSL will quickly become the national “lead agency” in the Catholic Church in Australia to promote the safeguarding of children and adults who are assessed as being at risk. ACSL will offer a more comprehensive and integrated approach to safeguarding through a range of activities, including:
- driving the continued development and implementation of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards
- supporting the implementation of the National Response Protocol, which will replace The Melbourne Response and Towards Healing protocols
- providing expert strategic planning and advice on the future development of the Church’s safeguarding strategies
- supporting the development of safeguarding expertise within Church bodies
- monitoring the Church’s ongoing implementation of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and collating our annual reporting obligations to the Commonwealth Government
- overseeing and supporting the integrity of the Church’s Australian Catholic Ministry Register.
In May 2019, Bishop Bill Wright established the office of Director of Safeguarding by canonical decree. After a restructure and enhancement of resources, the former Zimmerman Services was launched as the Office of Safeguarding in September 2019 as a part of National Child Protection Week. The Office of Safeguarding is designed to provide practical “on-the-ground” support and expertise to all those working and ministering on behalf of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. ACSL provides the “whole-of-Church” framework for the Office of Safeguarding to promote and lead its development and implementation within the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
As part of this integrated approach, Bishop Bill has recently approved a safeguarding framework policy for the Diocese, which will be implemented over the coming year. The new policy articulates comprehensive safeguarding obligations for diocesan services, including providers of ancillary support services that don’t work directly with children.
In complement with the new policy is a powerful safeguarding commitment statement that all diocesan personnel will be obliged to adhere to in the coming years. The statement spells out the comprehensive and integrated approach that is being championed by the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Bishop Bill talks to the Diocese’s safeguarding commitment statement on the Office of Safeguarding website officeofsafeguarding.org.au.
In talking about beginnings, it is important that we repeatedly restate our truth, that the past is with us today. The Diocese has, is, and will continue to acknowledge, the shameful aspects of its history where children suffered abuse and some of its leaders failed to protect them from harm.
Among other initiatives, Bishop Bill has established a special feast day in the Diocese’s liturgical calendar, making the Sunday on or before 15 September a Perpetual Day of Remembrance. This day allows “the Catholic community to fully acknowledge the crimes and failures of the past, in public ways, and to ensure that neither those who suffered nor the crimes themselves are ever allowed to fade from memory”.
The Diocese recognises that the pain and damage caused is current each day for some survivors and their families. Healing and Support (Zimmerman Services) continues to provide a highly personalised pastoral response and can be contacted during office hours Monday to Friday on 02 4923 0636 or via email healing - firstname.lastname@example.org.