The Assembly Standing Committee has been authorised to make changes to regulations in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Rev. Allan Thompson, the Executive Officer of the National Task Group on Engagement with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, spoke about the Commission, the Task Group’s report and the proposal relating to it.
“The Commission has been both necessary and helpful for Australia, and necessary and helpful for the Church,” said Rev. Thompson.
Rev. Thompson said that there has been an increase in awareness of incidences of abuse as a result of the Commission. Churches have also been forced to learn from the past to improve the safety of children in the care of the Church into the future.
“If the Commission has been good for the consciousness and the conscience for the nation it has also been good for the church, for abuse did occur in some of our agencies, schools and communities of faith.
“As soon as the Royal Commission was announced the Standing Committee established the task group, and asked synods to do the same. All synods responded and had the same terms of reference,” he continued.
“The Uniting Church must be a safe place for children.”
Dr Deidre Palmer also spoke to the report.
“Over 400 people were abused in our church and that of our founding denominations,” she said. “We are truly sorry for this and commit to working with survivors and their families.”
Dr Palmer highlighted some of the ways the Uniting Church had failed to adequately respond to accusations of child sexual abuse, including inadequate or non-existent record keeping, a lack of consistency within and between synods, and inaccurate policies and protocols.
“Some people, naively, do not believe that there has been abuse, and as a result have not instituted child safe practices,” said Dr Palmer.
Elaine Rae spoke about the need for apologies and a redress scheme.
“We have told the Commission that we believe there should be a national redress scheme which meets the needs of survivors,” she said.
“We will say sorry. There is so much power in a genuine, individualised apology from a senior member of an institution in which abuse has taken place.”
Ongoing training and working with children checks were emphasised.
“We need to be rigorous in our checks on all staff and volunteers who are to work with children,” said Ms Rae. “We need to ensure that we are providing ongoing training in child safety.”
The report was received by consensus.
Proposal 15, “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Regulation Changes”, would allow the Standing Committee to change Uniting Church regulations to implement effective policies and practices in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
“This is the only meeting of the Assembly during the five years of the Commission,” said Rev. Thompson.
“The Commission has shown interest in the governance structures of institutions which provide programs for children… [and] desires clarity about capacity of survivors to sue if they so wish.
“We need to be able to stand ready if changes to regulations are necessary to respond to the Commission.”
A question arose from the floor asking if “the Uniting Church was handicapped by our polity”. In response, Task Group member and UnitingCare National Director Lin Hatfield Dodds replied that: “[Yes.] Our polity makes it very difficult to respond with a single response framework.”
A national registry of complaints is being established in the Uniting Church in Australia.
The proposal was passed by consensus. The session ended with a litany of confession and lament over child sexual abuse that has happened in the Uniting Church.