Commitment to the safety of children and young people

The importance of safeguarding children and young people

Both the Victorian Parliament Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations (Betrayal of Trust inquiry), which concluded in November 2013, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, conducted nationally from January 2013 to December 2017, highlighted the enormous pain and suffering caused by abuse that has occurred within Catholic institutions.

These Inquiries have served to validate and acknowledge the experiences of victims/survivors who were harmed as a result of their interactions with individuals within Catholic institutions.

The first thing we need to do is to see through the eyes of those who’ve been abused and see them not as the other but as our own. In a sense, they will have to lead the Church beyond the horrors of abuse. Then we need to repent, which is not just saying sorry, but working to ensure that the Church is genuinely safe and caring, so that trust is rebuilt. (Archbishop Mark Coleridge – quoted in ACBC Communications Office 2018)

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM, one of the six commissioners who oversaw the completion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, described the sexual abuse that occurred within institutional contexts as a ‘national tragedy’:

The cost of lives lost and lives damaged is far too high. The darkness of the accounts of victims/survivors has played a crucial role in directing us toward the light – to consider what we need to do to ensure that we, as an Archdiocese, succeed in upholding our duty of care now and in the future.

Overall, 4,444 claimants alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 4,756 reported claims to Catholic Church authorities. (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017a, p. 13)

The failure of moral, legal and ethical responsibilities highlights the need for cultural transformation to ensure that we act collectively to safeguard children and young people from abuse and harm within our Church. Children and young people are inherently vulnerable to abuse and are entitled to be physically, emotionally and culturally safe.

The wellbeing of children and young people in our care must always be our first priority – all children and young people in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne have the right to feel safe and be safe. Safety ensures the continuation of the many positive and enriching interactions that are afforded to children and young people through their participation in the Church.

The quality of relationships that children and young people experience within our Church form the fabric from which their individual identities emerge (McEvoy 2018) and their relationship with God and others is defined.

Supporting information and resources

The effective protection of minors and a commitment to ensure their human and spiritual development, in keeping with the dignity of the human person, are integral parts of the Gospel message that the Church and all members of the faithful are called to spread throughout the world. (Chirograph of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Institution of a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, 21 April 2015)