August 2013

Child protection a priority

I am utterly committed to the ongoing development of best practice in the protection of children and the prevention of abuse of children at every level within all Church structures, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

Unequivocally, a person’s healing from child sexual abuse is a long and painful journey, and for some people who have experienced abuse, there seems to be no end to the pain and trauma.

Since its establishment late last year, the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has had the task of investigating institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse. Hopefully, such a thorough investigation will lead to recommendations that highlight the unacceptable and repugnant nature of child sexual assault in any society and in any institution. Ideally, those recommendations should create and foster best practices for protecting children and young people here in Australia. From evidence in the public domain, some institutions of the Catholic Church in Australia in the past have failed young people. Currently, I see institutions seeking to protect children with sound policies, processes and procedures. It is my hope and my determination that such protection will continue to be ingrained into all Church-based organisations.

The Royal Commission will raise many matters which will be a cause of despair and angst. For some, this may further erode their faith and love of the Church as an expression of God in the world. Hopefully, however, the Royal Commission will also uncover incidents when Church institutions have responded with care, love and remorse for the damage done by abuse to individuals in its institutions.

In my current role as a member of the National Committee for Professional Standards of the Catholic Church (NCPS), I see women and men utterly committed to bringing healing to those who have suffered. These are National and State Directors of Professional Standards Offices and their staff. They ought to be applauded by our Church and by our society for their dedication and hard work as they are often engaged in a heart-rending task of seeking to bring healing into the lives of wounded people. Daily they deal with the pain, the anger and the hurt of people.

Over the past week or so there has been discussion about the relationship between the establishment of Towards Healing, the Church’s pastoral response to abuse, and Catholic Church Insurance (CCI), with the suggestion that Towards Healing is simply an expression of the limitation of financial liability by CCI. Such an allegation is unfounded and erroneous; it does not recognise the committed work of numerous professionals who established Towards Healing as a pastoral response to individuals hurt by sexual abuse.

This claim also implies that as a Director of the Catholic Church Insurance Company (CCI) and a member of the National Committee for Professional Standards of the Catholic Church, that I automatically have a conflict of interest.

Let’s be very clear, both groups are independent and fulfil different functions within the Australian Catholic Church and broader society. It is on that basis that I believe the suggestion of a conflict of interest is unfounded. Nothing is further from the truth.

With eight years’ experience as a Director of CCI, I see women and men in this company committed to best practice with an exceptionally high level of professionalism. I see a company operating at the highest ethical and moral standards, as well as fully conforming to all legal requirements of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority and other supervisory bodies.

The CCI Board consists of eight Directors, all with competencies appropriate to providing policy oversight and the highest standard of governance for a medium-sized public company, a company that has been operating very successfully for over 100 years, since 1911. Of the eight Directors, only two of us are either a priest or a member of a religious order. I am one of those two. As Directors, we have the oversight of policy and business directions over a whole suite of insurance portfolios. Like any public company, management has the responsibility for the day-to-day operations, of responding to a broad range of insurance claims in a professional and competent manner. As a member of the board I have no involvement in or knowledge of any individual claims whether for property damage, workers compensation or public liability of any kind. All the details of such matters are undertaken by management according to the insurance policies that are in place.

In 2012, at the request of Catholic Religious Australia (CRA), I agreed to join the National Committee for Professional Standards, a joint committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and CRA. This appointment is for a three-year term. There are 12 committee members. The role of the committee is one of policy oversight, and particularly the ongoing development of best practice for the protection of children and the prevention of abuse within the Church. I accepted this onerous task 12 months ago because I am absolutely committed to child protection and to the healing process for those who have suffered at the hands of members of the Catholic community in the past. Professionally, I am qualified in the development and analysis of social policy, and my hope continues to be that these skills can be brought to bear in providing a continuous process of improvement in the Church’s overall approach to professional practices at every level. Again, in this role I have no involvement in the day-to-day implementation of Towards Healing processes which happens at State Professional Standards Offices.

Along with all those with whom I serve, I am utterly committed to the ongoing development of best practice in the protection of children and the prevention of abuse of children at every level within all Church structures.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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