Information for Church Authorities
The Professional Standards Office is fair and impartial. We are committed to making balanced and well-informed decisions and to providing accurate advice in relation to all complaints.
When the Professional Standards Office receives a complaint, we will decide whether to accept the complaint or refer it to the relevant Church Authority for resolution.
We may also ask the complainant and/or the Church Authority for further information.
Appraising a complaint is a very important first step in the process. It’s the point where we gather preliminary information needed from the complainant, the relevant Church Authority, and other sources, to help us make the right decision.
We will consider and analyse the information we receive, and then make our appraisal of the complaint and decide on the most appropriate course of action.
All information is considered carefully, impartially and fairly — we don’t take sides.
Our initial appraisal will be completed as quickly as possible, although this may be extended for more serious or complex matters or in cases where it takes longer to get the necessary information.
Selecting the appropriate process
After initial appraisal of a complaint, we will advise the complainant and relevant Church Authority how the complaint will be managed. We will inform the complainant and relevant Church Authority of our decision and what needs to happen next.
Abuse complaints will be managed via the Towards Healing process (see below). The Professional Standards Office is responsible for managing that process. Non-abuse complaints (i.e. grievances or misconduct) will be referred to the relevant Church Authority for resolution.
If we decide to refer the complaint to the relevant Church Authority or we can’t take a complaint any further, we will explain the reasons why and any options that may be available. We will also keep the complaint on record to help us identify any patterns of conduct or practice, or systemic issues.
Abuse Complaints – Towards Healing
What type of complaints/incidents does the Towards Healing process apply to?
The Towards Healing process applies to ‘abuse’ incidents committed by ‘Church personnel’ against those in a ‘pastoral care’ relationship.
Towards Healing provides that any attempt to sexualise a pastoral relationship is a breach of trust, an abuse of authority and professional misconduct. (clause 1)
It also provides that any form of sexual behaviour with a child or young person (person under 18yrs), is always sexual abuse. It is both immoral and criminal. (clause 3)
What is an abuse incident?
Abuse is defined in Towards Healing as any of the following:
- Sexual assault of another person (child or adult) by Church personnel.
- Sexual harassment of another person (child or adult) by Church personnel.
- Any conduct of a sexual nature with another person (child or adult) by Church personnel which is inconsistent with the integrity of the pastoral relationship.
- An intentional act by a person with responsibility for a child or young person (person under 18yrs) causing significant physical injury.
- Other behaviour by a person with responsibility for a child or young person (person under 18yrs) which causes serious physical pain or mental anguish (without legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time the behaviour occurred).
Who does the Towards Healing process apply to?
The Towards Healing process applies to all ‘church personnel’ including any cleric, member of a religious institute or other employed or volunteer person who works with children or young people (person under 18yrs) or who engages in other forms of pastoral care.
It also applies to all ‘church bodies’ including autonomous lay organisations that exercise pastoral ministry within, or on behalf of, the Catholic Church.
What should you do if you receive an abuse complaint?
Towards Healing provides that a sensitive and compassionate response to the complainant must be the first priority in all cases of abuse and that this attitude must be present even at a time when it is not yet certain that the allegations are accurate. (clauses 17 & 18)
Clause 36.4 of Towards Healing provides that if a Church Authority receives a complaint directly, the complaint should be referred to the Director of Professional Standards to manage the process of responding to the complaint.
It also provides that in the event that a complaint is received by one Church Authority that ought to be dealt with by another, the complaint should be referred to the Director of Professional Standards to make the appropriate linkages.
Responding to an abuse complaint
Clause 38.2 of Towards Healing provides that the Director of Professional Standards shall determine whether the complaint concerns conduct which could reasonably be considered to fall within the definition of abuse.
Where the Professional Standards Office considers that the complaint may constitute abuse, the Director shall forward it to the appropriate Church Authority and may make a recommendation concerning any immediate action that needs to be taken in relation to the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults.
Towards Healing Process
In brief, although the Towards Healing process is flexible and will vary from case to case, the process can include the following steps:
A contact report (written and signed complaint) will be obtained from the complainant. An independent professional will be appointed by the Director of Professional Standards to obtain the contact report. The complaint resolution process is explained, any mandatory reporting will occur, and counselling or other support is also usually offered to the complainant for the duration of the process.
The complainant will also be encouraged to report the matter to the police. If he or she does not wish to do so, the Director will make a non-identifying report to the police. The complainant will also be required to sign a declaration confirming that they do not intend to report the matter to the police.
A privacy statement will also be signed which will allow the Church to disclose information for administrative, investigative and pastoral care purposes under the Towards Healing process.
The relevant Church Authority funds the cost of obtaining the report.
Once the contact report is received, if the complainant has chosen not to go to the police, the allegations will be passed on to the relevant Church Authority. The Church Authority is expected to put the allegations to the accused person if possible and obtain a response. At that point, the accused person may be stood aside pending investigation. The Director of Professional Standards will provide direction in this respect.
If the allegations are denied, or if there is uncertainty about the facts, and the Director of Professional Standards believes it necessary, independent professional assessors will be appointed to investigate the allegations and make findings. The Director of Professional Standards is obliged to appoint two assessors unless the Director considers that in the circumstances one professional assessor is sufficient. The assessors chosen must be independent of the Church Authority, the complainant and the accused.
The purpose of an assessment is to investigate the facts of the case to the extent that it is possible to do so. Church Authorities shall comply with all reasonable requests made by assessors for access to documents which may assist them in their work, subject to any legal obligations of confidentiality.
The assessors will provide a written report to the Church Authority and the Director of Professional Standards. The assessors will make findings about whether they consider the complaint to be true on the ‘balance of probabilities’, based upon the evidence available at that time.
The assessors may also make recommendations to the Church Authority concerning its response to the complainant and this may include any matters that may be relevant to a risk assessment concerning the continuation of a person in a particular kind of ministry. They may also comment on how serious was the violation of the integrity of the pastoral role.
The relevant Church Authority funds the cost of the assessment.
Depending on the findings of the assessment, the Director for Professional Standards will appoint an independent professional facilitator to moderate a process for communication between the complainant and the Church Authority. This may involve a meeting, under the direction of the facilitator. The outcomes of that meeting typically include an apology, payment of counselling costs, and agreed financial assistance or reparation.
The Church Authority may seek such further information as it considers necessary to understand the needs of the complainant, including a report from a suitably qualified and independent professional concerning the impact of the abuse on the complainant. Such a report will be at the Church Authority’s expense.
The relevant Church Authority funds the cost of the facilitation.
Outcomes relating to the accused
Where the claim is accepted or admitted, or substantiated by the assessment process, the Church Authority has to decide what action it should take with respect to the perpetrator.
Where there are concerns about the person’s suitability to be in a position of pastoral care, the Church Authority, in consultation with the Director of Professional Standards and the Consultative Panel, shall consider what action needs to be taken concerning the future ministry of the person.
Where the offender is a current employee of the Church other than a cleric or religious, the offender’s future must be determined in accordance with the applicable procedures of employment law.
The Church Authority shall promptly communicate the outcomes in relation to perpetrator to the Director of Professional Standards.
An independent review process is available managed by a National Review Panel.
A person may request a review on the basis that the Towards Healing process was not followed correctly or that the findings of the assessment are flawed.
It is important to note that a review is not a reconsideration of the eventual outcomes of the matter.
A complainant may seek a review within three calendar months of the end of the facilitation or otherwise when the Church Authority gives its response to the complaint, or has failed to offer a response within three calendar months of the time when an assessment has been completed.
The accused and the Church Authority may seek a review within three calendar months of the time when the Director of Professional Standards has furnished the assessment report to the Church Authority.
However, the Chairperson of the Review Panel may allow a review outside of the three months’ time limit if there are compelling reasons to accept a request for review.
The relevant Church Authority funds the cost of the review.