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Catholic Child Protection inadequate in NSW

The Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (NSW) has denied that it has failed to meet its obligations as 'head of agency' for the Roman Catholic Church in NSW, as the Ombudsman reported to the NSW Parliament last week.

The Ombudsman, Mr Bruce Barbour, reported that the Catholic Commission's failings were so severe that it was his "firm view" that the organisation be replaced as the key agency with responsibility for child protection matters.

The Catholic Commission for Employment Relations has been delegated responsibility by the NSW Bishops for compliance with child protection legislation. This means they are responsible for notifying and investigating reportable allegations against employees. They also have a broader compliance, systems monitoring, policy development and training responsibility. The Ombudsman is responsible for the review of such agencies.

The Ombudsman's concerns, first raised with the NSW Bishops in 2003, included:

  • CCCER's failure to notify and properly deal with allegations involving clergy
  • delays in notifying and completing investigations
  • failure to respond to our requests for information
  • the inadequacy of their training and provision of information to Catholic employers about their responsibilities

    Subsequent investigations in 2003-04 found that the CCER had not adequately implemented the Ombudsman's recommendations. In particular, the Ombudsman noted that each of the 11 dioceses had very great differences in the quality of their investigating systems and were not equally supported by the CCER, the CCER had failed to pass on the Ombudsman's findings to individual schools and the CCER had failed to rectify incorrect information about Child Protection legislation from the agency to the schools.

    In response, the Executive Director of the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, Mr Michael McDonald, claims that Mr Barbour's report contains "matters which have been addressed or are in the process of being addressed by CCER and its constituent agencies." Mr McDonald also denies the assertion that the CCER has failed to implement the Ombudsman's recommendations, saying that "the audits generally have found implementation of the legislation and constructive relations between CCER and the particular agency".

    The CCER also rejected "any implication that children in Catholic workplaces are less safe than in any other. In fact, employers have made every effort to secure the safety and protection of children."

    Mr McDonald was responding to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which Mr Barbour was quoted as saying that children in Catholic schools in NSW were at risk as a result of the CCER's systemic failure to act. One example in the Ombudsman's Report was a 2002 case in the Maitland Newcastle area, which involved a priest who was permitted to remain in contact with children by the school's principal. Although the principal had been notified of police concerns of abusive behaviour, the principal also jeopardized police investigation by alerting the priest to police concerns. (The priest comes up for trial in the next few weeks.) In this case, it was found that the CCER had failed to ensure that the employer understood his responsibilities and failed to provide adequate training and information about risk management.

    "We have been concerned for some time about the CCER's capacity to meet their obligations," Mr Barbour told the Sydney Morning Herald. "The way the system was letting children down, our concern is if it's happening in one school, is it happening in any other?

    Similar agencies under the auspices of the Ombudsman, including the Department of Education and Training, and Barnado's, received praise from Mr Barbour in the Report.

    The Ombudsman met with the CCER and representatives of the Church in NSW last week to determine the fate of the CCER as 'head of agency' for the Catholic Church in NSW. None of the parties have announced an outcome.

    Read more

    The Ombudsman's Report

    Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (NSW)

    Sydney Morning Herald

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