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Two-year wait for Catholic Church to trial abuse audit

Two-year wait for Catholic Church to trial promised abuse audit
Phil Pennington, Reporter

The Catholic Church has yet to bring in external audits for child safety practices, two years after promising it would.

Church - Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Photo: RNZ / Brad White

In 2017 the church said an auditing system was being developed to enforce compliance across all its groups with national safeguarding guidelines.

However, after questions were raised by abuse survivor Steve Goodlass and RNZ, the church now says it will be next year before it trials an external audit system.

Until then, it has a "self-review tool", developed just this year, that the church can only encourage parishes to use.

It is not clear why external auditing has not been in place sooner.

"This is still being developed," said Virginia Noonan, director of the church's National Office for Professional Standards.

"Our office will be responsible for the co-ordination of the external reviews, and we are currently developing an auditing cycle."

A fortnight ago, when Mr Goodlass asked what auditing was currently being done, Ms Noonan referred him to her office's website and a 2017 document that says it "will develop a system of auditing".

"Basically you've just got a whole lot of safeguarding policy with no backstop," he said.

"We can't trust the parishes to do the right thing - you can patently look at the global abuse crisis to say that it's not working, they cannot be trusted."

The church record on this was worrying, he said.

"In 2016 when I met with the Marists... I put the question to them 'what do you have in place to prevent what happened to me happening to another child?'. They said they had excellent processes in place."

He did not believe this, and the church's approach since had given him no confidence.

Professor Des Cahill of RMIT University in Melbourne, who gave evidence last week at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse drawing parallels between the church in New Zealand and elsewhere, told RNZ the New Zealand church's child safety model was far inferior to what has been set up in Ireland, the UK and the US.

He said New Zealand should copy these.

The Catholic Church has now begun its first-ever study into the prevalence of child sex abuse by clergy in this country.

The bishops have promised full transparency. However, the prevalence study covers only 1950-99, matching the period the Royal Commission covers, and consists of relying on clergy themselves to look back through their own archives.

This was not ideal when the aim should be to establish a baseline of abuse, but there appeared to be no independent option, Mr Goodlass said.

The US did its first prevalence study in 2002.

That same year, New Zealand Cardinal Tom Williams was quoted saying there was no need to follow the US lead, as this country had no similar crisis.

"It's just from what I know of my men primarily. They are a hard-working and loyal group and honest to God about their ministry," he told the Evening Post.

Abuse survivor groups have been pushing for completely independent oversight and audits of the church and other bodies.

Any external audit of parish safeguarding practices by the National Office would still not be independent, said Mr Goodlass.

Ms Noonan said the Catholic Church was "now developing procedures and template documents to support church groups to implement the safeguarding policy" drawn up in 2017.

"Safeguarding education sessions are being co-ordinated and held in every diocese," she said in a statement.

"Members of our church communities are encouraged to attend these sessions to raise awareness of our collective responsibility to create safe environments for children and vulnerable adults."

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