HUNTER Catholic Bishop Bill Wright has appointed a new body to advise him on protecting children and vulnerable adults after a public apology in September for the diocese’s “particularly troubled history” of failing to protect children from sexual abuse.
The nine-member diocese protection and safety council will help “rebuild a sense of trust within the community about Maitland-Newcastle diocese’s commitment to protect children and vulnerable adults”, said a statement released on Monday.
It came four months after devastating evidence at a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearing in Newcastle which revealed systemic failings in the church’s responses to child sex offenders including Father Vince Ryan and Marist Brothers Romuald (Francis Cable) and Patrick (Thomas Butler).
Bishop Wright said the Council would foster a culture of continuous improvement throughout the diocese on the protection of children and vulnerable adults after a history which includes “allowing predatory individuals to continue to abuse”.
“It is this sad history which sees us now at the forefront of safety and protection as we aim to continually push forward with any activities which minimise the risk for people suffering in the future,” he said.
“The newly formed council will offer independent advice to ensure the diocese continues to develop its policies and practices in the field of professional standards.
“We have an absolute and enduring commitment to promoting and ensuring the safety of all who are connected with us – be it through our parishes, Catholic schools, early education or community outreach services.”
Council members were appointed by the bishop. The nine members are not employees of the diocese or clergy in the diocese.
The diocese did not release a list of members but said it included a diocese parishioner, a non-Catholic with no prior ties to the diocese, a clinical psychologist, a Catholic priest, a canon lawyer and a civil lawyer under chairman Peter Owens.
Bishop Wright, the diocese’s Vicar-General Brian Mascord and Zimmerman Services manager Sean Tynan are ex-officio members.
“The council members were selected for a range of qualities, including particular professional skills and personal backgrounds,” the diocese said.
“The Bishop has endeavoured to ensure that one or more of the council members has a personal understanding of the challenges and complexities that affect people who have suffered child sexual abuse.”
Mr Owens said the council was “deliberately diverse, with a mix of both Catholics and non-Catholics, clerics and lay people specialising in both the legal and mental health sectors”.
“It's this diversity which I believe sees the Council well equipped to provide sound recommendations to the Bishop, but also to ensure these are seen through to implementation and integration within the everyday life of the Diocese as well,” Mr Owens said.
The council will produce an annual report for each financial year, detailing results of any evaluation or review processes conducted, new developments implemented and an operations summary of the Diocesan Protection Unit – Zimmerman Services. The first annual report will be made available in December 2017.