A guide to the Church’s response to child sexual abuse

The Catholic Church in Australia has taken a number of decisive steps in the prevention and fight against child sexual abuse with an emphasis on concrete actions, prevention, education and care for victims and survivors.

This summary outlines the Church's progress at a national level between 1987 and 2019, including the publication of major events and its interaction with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In August 2018, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia provided the Church’s official response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, accepting more than 98 per cent of the recommendations that related to the Church.

Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited

On December 3, 2020, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia and the Association of Ministerial PJPs established Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited. The new company takes on the functions and roles that had been overseen by Catholic Professional Standards Limited, the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards and (until September 2020) the Implementation Advisory Group.

Click here to read more about Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited.

Click here to access a Frequently Asked Questions document on Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited.

Key documents:

Several entities had been coordinating the Church's ongoing national response in different key areas.

More information about each organisation and important links can be accessed below.

You can also find information on how to report abuse.

Vos Estis Lux Mundi

The Bishops Conference has created a web page to support the Church in Australia in meeting its requirements under Pope Francis’ apostolic letter motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi. It is designed especially to facilitate reports from clerics and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life regarding crimes of sexual abuse committed by clerics and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and the concealing of crimes of sexual abuse by Bishops and their equivalents.

National Response Protocol

The Catholic Church in Australia has established a new, nationally-consistent approach for handling complaints of sexual abuse and other misconduct, creating the best outcomes for people bringing forward complaints and those responsible for responding to them. The Protocol was drafted with input from many stakeholders, including survivors and their supporters. A liaison group with expertise in professional standards, safeguarding, pastoral care, complaints management, civil and canon law, and ecclesiology will provide further assistance to bring the project to completion and provide recommendations to the Conference and CRA. Click here to access the National Response Protocol.

The Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards

The Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards (known earlier as the National Committee for Professional Standards) was established to reduce the opportunity for child and adult abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia by:

  • Providing national leadership to develop and promote strategies that provide an effective and efficient National Complaints Management Framework.
  • Ensuring the highest professional standards are applied to keep all safe and the response to reports of abuse is applied consistently across the Catholic Church in Australia.
  • Providing strategic direction, leadership and operational planning of current and future systemic trends related to professional standards to the Permanent Committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and other senior leaders within the Catholic Church.
  • Ensuring that a trauma-informed approach is applied when dealing with those reporting abuse to ensure that pastoral care is provided consistently across the Catholic Church in Australia.
  • Working in partnership with internal and external agencies to reduce the risk of harm and respond appropriately in safeguarding and investigating allegations for those who are at risk of harm and those who have been subject to harm subject to investigative outcomes of outside agencies.

The work of the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards is now undertaken by Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd.

Australian Catholic Redress Limited

The National Redress Scheme was created by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments in response to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Scheme is operated by the Commonwealth Government.

On October 19, 2018, Australian Catholic Redress Ltd was established to oversee Catholic dioceses’ engagement with the National Redress Scheme. Australian Catholic Redress Ltd provides a single access point for interaction between the Scheme and dioceses – and the approximately 5,000 Catholic sites for which they are (or have been) responsible.

Under the Scheme, applications for redress are considered by independent assessors who decide on the appropriate levels of financial and other support, such as counselling services. The Catholic Church, and other institutions participating in the Scheme, meet the costs of redress that the Scheme determines, as well as administration costs to support the Scheme’s operation.

Australian Catholic Redress is the formal representative of Church authorities in the Scheme. The company also helps ensure all diocesan obligations under the Scheme are met, including the delivery of a personal direct response (if requested). All Catholic archdioceses, dioceses and eparchies are participants in the National Redress Scheme.

To access the National Redress Scheme, call 1800 737 377 or visit www.nationalredress.gov.au

Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL)

CPSL was established in 2016 by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 

CPSL was established to: 

  • set safeguarding standards to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults who engage with the Church at any level anywhere in Australia;
  • provide training and support to enable church authorities, entities, organisations, ministries and anyone involved in the Church to create a culture of safety for everyone;
  • support the Church to build a culture of safeguarding;
  • audit the compliance of Catholic entities, organisations and ministries in accordance with the Standards; and
  • publicly report the results of those audits.

In late 2020, Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd was established and has taken on the functions previously undertaken by CPSL.

Implementation Advisory Group

The Implementation Advisory Group (IAG) was established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in May 2018 to monitor the work done by the Church in Australia in response to the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse and the recommendations of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. The IAG completed its work in September 2020. Some of its key projects are outlined below.

Governance Review

As part of its work, the IAG convened a panel of experts to conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of Catholic dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and lay participation. The review was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse after the Commission concluded that the governance and management of dioceses and parishes contributed to the child sexual abuse crisis. The final report, The Light from the Southern Cross: Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia, was published in August 2020. Find out more here. 

National Response Guidelines

The IAG commissioned the development of new national response guidelines for Catholic Church authorities in responding to historical and contemporary concerns and allegations of abuse. The project reflects the understanding by the Catholic Church in Australia that it needs to take full responsibility and ownership of the harm caused and the loss of trust and faith in the Church by survivors, their families and the broader community because of the history of individual and systemic failings of the Catholic Church in response to abuse by Catholic Church personnel. This initiative is also committed to ensuring that the approach of the Catholic Church in Australia, both at an individual and collective level, not only drives effective responses to specific concerns or allegations at a local level but also contributes to building a Church-wide culture that prioritises the protection of children and vulnerable people, and acknowledges the courage and strength of survivors.

Steps for reporting abuse

Currently, when a person reports abuse, they are offered four options if the matter is suitable (has a sexual element and the person was under 18 at the time of offence) and occurred prior to July 1, 2018. The options are:

  1. They can report to the police in their state or territory (this is the preferred option).
  2. They can enter the Towards Healing process or access the Melbourne Response (within the Archdiocese of Melbourne).
  3. They may take civil action.
  4. They may make a claim via the National Redress Scheme.

For any incident involving abuse between adults (sexual or physical) prior to or after July 1, 2018, or any incident which involves a child which is not sexual in nature (physical, emotional or neglect only with no sexual element) and occurred prior to July 1, 2018, and any sexual or other abuse incident that occurred after July 1, 2018, involving a child.

Three options exist (subject to state legislation on reportable conduct and mandatory reporting):

  1. They can report to the police (this is the preferred option).
  2. They can enter the Towards Healing process or access the Melbourne Response (within the Archdiocese of Melbourne).
  3. They may take civil action.

The National Redress Scheme does not apply for any incidents that occurred after July 1, 2018, or involving adult victims or survivors.

Those who need immediate assistance can contact:
Lifeline 13 11 14
In an emergency, call 000

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