The Chief Executive of an independent company established by the Catholic Church in Australia to develop, audit and report on compliance with professional standards across Catholic entities says that if the safety of children and vulnerable people is not at the centre of the Church's mission in Australia and around the world, "then something has gone very, very wrong in the Church".
Ms Sheree Limbrick, CEO of Catholic Professional Standards Ltd (CPSL), said the biggest future challenge facing the Church was the protection of children and vulnerable adults.
"Regardless of the changes that have been made to the way in which the Church in Australia responded to, and dealt with, allegations and the survivors of child sexual abuse over the past 25 years, it has become very clear that more, much more, needs to be done," Ms Limbrick wrote on the Jesuit-operated Eureka Street website on 19 February, shortly before she was a panellist at the Catholic Social Services national conference, Hearing, Healing, Hope, in Melbourne from 21-23 February.
She wrote that CPSL was a completely new process for the Australian Church, its leaders and organisations.
"It brings with it its own set of unique challenges, not least of which is the perception that CPSL is stepping well over the mark and intruding on the independence of bishops and others.
"From my perspective this is not right. CPSL will be consulting widely on the new standards, certainly not doubling up where appropriate standards already exist. It will offer extensive training on how to comply with the standards, and give Church leaders every opportunity to understand their responsibilities to ensure, as far as possible, children and vulnerable people are safe.
"But that said, where there are failings and where, for whatever reason, a diocese or congregation continues to be unsafe, CPSL will say so, publicly. CPSL sets a new high-water mark in the ongoing development of a child-safe church in Australia."
Ms Limbrick wrote that while CPSL's approach was focused on holding Church leaders to account, its philosophy was very much that the safety and protection of children and vulnerable people in the Church was everybody's business.
"By increasing the broader Catholic community's knowledge and understanding of crimes such as grooming, physical and sexual abuse, the devastating impact of abuse on individuals and the ripple effects into families and communities, CPSL will be getting the word out to at least a quarter of the Australian population — its work has the potential for far greater change than just within the Catholic Church."
PICTURE: Australian child abuse survivors with Deputy Mayor of Ballarat Belinda Coates after travelling to Rome to meet with Cardinal George Pell in 2016 (image/PA).