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Archbishop says fine-tuning making abuse protocol more 'victim-friendly'

The new co-chair of the Committee for Professional Standards, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, has said that greater transparency is increasing the fairness of the Australian Church's Towards Healing sex abuse protocol.

He told ABC Radio's The World Today yesterday that the Committee is working to reverse the common perception that Towards Healing is an "in-house procedure" not susceptible to normal checks and balances that the community has a right to expect from such a procedure.

The discussion follows the frank admission of Jesuit Provincial Fr Mark Raper that the Jesuits' have fostered a legalistic approach that harrasses the victim and works against reconciliation.

Fr Raper said the Jesuits are working towards embracing the Towards Healing protocol, which is designed to deal with complaints of abuse without resorting to legal action.

Archbishop Wilson stresses that Towards Healing is being fine-tuned to achieve better outcomes for both the victims and the Church.

He said: "I think it has been working well, but I think it's like a lot of things in human life and activity, that you have to keep learning from the experience."

The national Committee for Professional Standards, which manages Towards Healing, is constituted by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference in conjunction with the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (ACLRI). Last week's ACLRI conference supported amendments to Towards Healing that include the possibility of establishing extra layers of recourse for victims, such as an ombudsman.

Peter Gordon, a lawyer who has represented sex abuse victims, told The World Today that despite the ideals of Towards Healing, legal stonewalling is a continuing fact of life for victims desperate for reparation from the Catholic Church.

He said church authorities are responsible for advice they take from their lawyers that leads to conduct in the courts that he calls "obscene", praising Fr Raper's decision to admit to such legal tactics.

"I think it was a particularly moral and ethical thing that he did [but] I'd be very, very surprised if he was able to produce a change of policy on behalf of the Catholic Church as a whole."

ABC Radio The World Today Report 1 | Report 2

Church committed to tackling abuse (Southern Cross)
Religious Congregations support amended abuse protocol (2/7/03)
Jesuits nearer to adopting sex abuse rules (Sydney Morning Herald)
Bishops fine-tuning sex abuse response procedures (29/5/03)
Towards Healing - Principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against personnel of the Catholic Church of Australia
Jesuits push law aside in sex abuse u-turn (2/7/03)
Father Mark Raper speaks out against the Church's handling of sexual abuse (ABC Radio 'PM')
Church blocking abuse cases: Jesuit (AAP)
Jesuits admit blocking tactics in abuse claims (The Australian - payment required)
Jesuits act on criticism (The Age 27/6/03)
Another humiliating abuse lesson for the Church on national television (24/6/03)
Horror past of sexual abuses continues to plague churches (ABC TV 7:30 Report 23/6/03)
Fr Mark Raper SJ responds to 7.30 Report
Text of Fr Mark Raper's letter
Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes

3 Jul 2003