Christian Brother's Leader defends Church's response to abuse
The Province Leader of the Christian Brothers in WA & SA, Br Tony Shanahan, has published a strong letter in The West Australian responding to accusations of how the Church and the Brothers are responding to abuse allegations. He writes: "The Catholic Church's record in this area has been much criticised, often justifiably. However, it doesn't help if this important discussion on child sexual abuse is conducted on the basis of incorrect information or without acknowledging the substantial steps taken by the Catholic Church in recent years." The full text of the letter is:
MAGGIE WOODHEAD (It's better to keep quiet, Letters, 15/1) makes a telling point about the criminal justice system and those who disclose sexual abuse as children. The same is probably true of other systems, including Church ones.
Unfortunately, Ms Woodhead supports her argument with misleading references to the Christian Brothers and a document she obtained from us. The document she refers to, Towards Healing, was produced on behalf of the Catholic Church nationally in 1996. It set out procedures for dealing with complaints about sexual abuse by Church personnel.
Ms Woodhead is incorrect to say that it has no mention "of the words crime, criminal, police, legal or justice system". The document declares that any form of sexual behaviour with a minor "is both immoral and criminal". It notes that civil or criminal law may apply in given cases and it rules that mandatory reporting requirements must be observed.
It further stipulates that complainants are to be reminded of their right to take their complaint to the police and, if they desire it, to be assisted in this. The document also lays down that any action by Church authorities should not jeopardise investigations by police or other civil authorities.
Towards Healing was revised in 2000 after four years of experience with the original protocol. It is even more detailed in its treatment of the way Church processes relate to the law of the land. Neither edition of the document states or implies that complaints of sexual abuse should be "managed solely within the Church itself".
The Catholic Church's record in this area has been much criticised, often justifiably. However, it doesn't help if this important discussion on child sexual abuse is conducted on the basis of incorrect information or without acknowledging the substantial steps taken by the Catholic Church in recent years.
Towards Healing is not a secret document. A copy can be obtained by contacting the Catholic Church's director of professional standards.
Brother TONY SHANAHAN,
Province Leader, Christian Brothers.
The West Australian