Child sexual abuse: are churches covering up or opening up?

Recent media coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s recall to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has ignited public debate on whether churches are willing to face up to child sexual abuse.

Tim Minchin’s “musical attack” on Cardinal Pell has been a lightning rod for debate on social media.

Against a background of negative commentary, it is easy to lose sight of positive changes that are taking place across churches and the broader community.

Positive changes that are taking place across churches and the broader community are being overshadowed by the social media campaign against Cardinal George Pell.

On the same day last week that support for an “anti-Pell campaign” was building, the NSW Ombudsman’s office tabled a report in Parliament that told a different story – a story of church openness, not a “cover-up”.

The report, Strengthening the oversight of workplace child abuse allegations, comes after all of NSW’s Catholic and Anglican archbishops and bishops jointly called on the NSW Parliament at the end of last year to enact legislation that would open their churches’ work with children to further external scrutiny.

These church leaders are asking Parliament to put measures in place to ensure that all allegations of sexual or other abuse of children made against their clergy, employees and volunteers must be reported to and oversighted by the Ombudsman.

For the past 16 years my office has administered a “reportable conduct scheme” that is unique in Australia. Thousands of agencies that provide services to children must notify the Ombudsman of child abuse allegations made against their employees and volunteers.

Each year we handle about 1400 notifications, many involving criminal allegations. Presently, 134 of our open cases concern individuals who have been charged with criminal offences against children. Most charges involve child sexual abuse. Continue reading

  • John McMillan is the acting NSW Ombudsman. The item above was published in The Sydney Morning Herald.
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