NSW Ombudsman’s Submission (Or: Treading Softly)

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Image Source: www.inkcinct.com.au 

The submission from the New South Wales Ombudsman to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse is somewhat disappointing. It says more positive things about the Catholic Church’s “Towards Healing” process (to deal with allegations of abuse), than negative things. Where it is negative, it is only mildly so.

This is shown in the following passage from the submission: “We are also of the view that the very strong emphasis in the document on responding to abuse via formal complaints could potentially divert attention from the need for the Catholic Church to also take proactive steps in identifying, and responding to, abuse. In this regard, the Church should seek to promote a culture where not only victims and their representatives are encouraged to raise concerns about abuse, but also that Church leaders – and the broader Church community – understand the importance of vigilance in relation to this issue.”

It continues with the sideline focus of using the process to improve systems when it says that “nowhere in the somewhat detailed description of the complaint processes does the policy emphasise the importance of utilizing the complaints system…to proactively identify where risks of possible abuse may exist.”

All of this may be important to an Ombudsman, but it is not what the hearings about “Towards Healing” are meant to cover. It is its failure, for current victims, which is of most concern to most people – a point the Ombudsman’s submission fails to address adequately.

One of the most serious faults of “Towards Healing” pertains to its use of the advantages, under the existing law, for civil litigation (see previous postings e.g. “Ellis Defence”). Here, the submission is very weak in its apparent criticisms. It states that “we believe that the Catholic Church would benefit from clearly articulated policy relating to how they will conduct themselves in relation to civil claims.”

It simply urges the church to use its own claim “to act with concern for the wellbeing of the complainant” to resolve the civil claim, and notes that this is not the case, sometimes.

The Ombudsman’s office is, perhaps, reflecting its concerns with sexual harassment in the workplace, when it states, somewhat obliquely, that “In our opinion, the requirement that there be an allegation of conduct of a sexual nature in order to trigger the Towards Healing process will inevitably lead the Church to exclude from its purview the behaviour of sexual predators who actively avoid displaying conduct which is overtly sexual in their conduct towards intended victims.” This would be a useful additional factor in the “Towards Healing” process which the Commission could consider.

In what is most likely an indirect reference to the “tip-offs” revealed in the New South Wales State government enquiry earlier in the year, the submission states that it is “generally poor investigative practice to put the allegations to the accused prior to obtaining critical evidence that may either support or discount the allegations.”

One very useful recommendation it makes concerns “reparation” payments. It says that “In the event that there are unresolved issues concerning monetary reparation … these should be dealt with by negotiation outside of the facilitation.” Other submissions have also recommended this.

Overall, the Ombudsman’s submission is disappointing, but more may be revealed if someone from that Office appears before the Commission next week.

Read more here:

Pro-Catholic Propaganda Feature: In the interests of a “fair and balanced” blog, the following photo from the Vatican PR Unit is re-posted.

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TOMORROW: CLAN submission

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

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