A Safe Church for All People
A statement by President Dr Deidre Palmer
6 Sep 2018
Almost 40 weeks have now passed since the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse handed its Final Report to the Australian Government.
Commissioner McClellan, his fellow Commissioners and staff have distilled the wisdom of their landmark five-year inquiry into 17 volumes. The learnings of the Royal Commission – the most comprehensive investigation into child safety in our lifetime – are readily available to all institutions. So too are the stories of those who have experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse – the stories of survivors and their families – and of those who did not survive.
I stand with our two previous Uniting Church Presidents, who have served our Church during the time of the Royal Commission, in expressing my deep sorrow that there have been children who were abused in our Church, including our institutions. To those who have been abused, to your families and friends, who have been impacted by the ongoing effects of the abuse, I am deeply sorry that we did not protect and care for you in accordance with our Christian values and the way of Jesus, who has called us to be communities where all people can flourish in trust and safety.
We will seek to make amends and to ensure others will not suffer as you have.
For leaders of institutions which appeared before the Royal Commission, like the Uniting Church, the stories of people who endured abuse in our institutions and others must continue to be upheld in our collective memory.
As a Christian organisation, our theological understanding of ourselves as a community responding to Jesus Christ, means we need to keep asking ourselves this important question: is our Church safe?
If our Church is not a safe place for all people, by definition, we are not living out our call to follow Jesus.
Long before the Royal Commission’s Final Report was released, our Church and its Agencies were adopting the learnings from the hearings and research into our policy and practices around child safety.
Policy work in our Church is well advanced. A new National Child Safe Policy Framework is in place. At national and Synod levels Royal Commission Response Task Groups have worked closely together in resourcing the UCA’s whole of Church response.
We have created an annual national audit process against the Child Safe Framework, and we map audit and compliance responsibilities.
The National Task Group’s work has underlined a need for greater consistency across our Church. We are now considering how we might achieve better consistency, possibly in the form of a national Safe Church Unit. We will be required by the Federal Government’s new National Office of Child Safety to implement recommendations and demonstrate child safe practices in our life as a church, and to report on these things.
The Royal Commission’s ten “Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations” are expected to form the basis of a new set of National Standards to which organisations that engage with children will be required to demonstrate compliance annually. These ten elements are already replicated within the UCA’s National Child Safety Framework.
The work ahead of us all is to demonstrate compliance clearly, consistently and transparently in all we do with children. And this is not compliance for the sake of satisfying an external agency. but rather acting and being in ways that are consistent with who God calls us to be as Church – a trustworthy, respectful, loving community, in which all people are safe and can flourish.
The change that is expected of us – and that we want to see – is that this work will be carried out consistently across our Church.
This work is not only for those whose specific roles include child safety, this is part of our expression of our every member ministry. We are all called by God to take responsibility for creating and forming communities of trust, care and safety for all people, including our children.
I hope and pray that every member of our Church will work faithfully and carefully in the months and years ahead to ensure the work of child safety is continually grounded in our life and witness.
(Originally published by the SA Synod and UCA Assembly)