ACT News

Expert body at Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese to respond to child abuse survivors

The Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese's new expert body to deal with child sexual abuse is a "huge step" towards transparency, but it cannot address the core problems of the Catholic Church, a child sex abuse campaigner says.

The archdiocese's Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding is headed by former NSW police detective Matt Casey and former lawyer Jane Cronan.

Child abuse campaigner and former Marist student Damian de Marco.
Child abuse campaigner and former Marist student Damian de Marco. Photo: Melissa Adams

Mr Casey, the institute's director, said the body was charged with investigating allegations of child sex abuse from anywhere in the archdiocese.

"There was a tendency, within not just the church in our archdiocese but in other organisations, to minimise things and to not recognise the objective seriousness of the behaviour that was being complained about," he said.

Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse.
Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse. Photo: Matt Bedford

"With the institute, there will always be a level of expertise that enables us to respond to the objective seriousness of any complaint that comes to us."

He said the institute would start with a presumption in favour of the complainant.

The institute would not facilitate compensation, which would be organised through the survivor and the church's legal representatives.

Instead, Mr Casey said the priority was the "healing and support" of victims.

Damian De Marco, who was the public face of the royal commission investigating the institutional response of the Marist Brothers to allegations of child sex abuse, said the institute was a big step towards transparency and accountability.

He praised the body's professional approach to working with survivors, which was crucial and something so far lacking in Canberra.

"The people who do this work will no longer be the teacher in the room next door, or the headmaster that had no training in it, it'll be people who know what they're doing," he said.

But the institute was still dealing with abuse after it occurred, and not the reasons it had happened in the first place, he said. "What it can't address is the core architectural problems of the [church]."

Those core problems, he says, can be fixed only from the top down.

The institute was "groundbreaking" in how it centralised responsibility and expertise for anything related to professional standards, child protection or safeguarding throughout the diocese, Mr Casey said.

It will also oversee training of church staff in how to respond to survivors of abuse.

Mr Casey said the institute had not been lacking in work since it began operating in October, and said he, Ms Cronan and the institute's two part-time employees would soon be joined by more staff.

In launching the institute on Wednesday, Archbishop Christopher Prowse said the new system would bring survivors of sex abuse "from the margins into the centre of our pastoral response".

"Too many [survivors], regrettably, have spoken of being confronted by a brutal and defensive church governance structure that refused to take responsibility," he said.

"The aim is to support survivors with the reassurance that all our communities are safe, our children and vulnerable people are truly cared for, and the spiritual dimension of all we do is not compromised by unethical and criminal behaviour."