Protocol | Roles & Responsibilities | Summary of Process | Flow Chart
Towards Healing was established in 1996 and is a process offered by the Church to a person who has been abused by a priest, religious or other Catholic Church personnel. Towards Healing also formalises the Catholic Church’s principles and procedures for responding to complaints of abuse.
The goal of Towards Healing has always been to take a holistic approach to addressing the needs and concerns of people who have been abused within the Church. Pastoral care is at the heart of Towards Healing, which seeks to put the victim at the forefront of the process.
Towards Healing offers a person who has been abused, by a priest or religious or other Church personnel, the opportunity to tell his or her story, personally and directly, to someone in authority in the Church, who will accept responsibility for what happened to him or her, acknowledge the damage he or she has suffered, give a sincere apology, and offer pastoral care and reparation.
Towards Healing states, and seeks to give effect to, the Church’s commitment to seven principles in responding to complaints of abuse – truth, humility, healing for the victims, assistance to other persons affected, a just response to those who are accused, an effective response to those who are guilty of abuse, and the prevention of abuse.
Towards Healing is a public statement of the Church’s position. It sets out in some detail, in uncomplicated language, how the Church will approach complaints where a victim chooses to use Towards Healing, and the process which will be followed.
All of the main religious institutes in the Catholic Church in Australia today participate in Towards Healing, as does every diocese other than Melbourne.
Towards Healing today operates through a nationwide structure of offices, including a national office. There are Directors of Professional Standards appointed for the States and Territories, who are responsible for assisting victims and managing the cases in their regions.
Towards Healing seeks to place the position of the victim at the forefront of the process, giving each person an opportunity to tell the Church the truth of what has happened to him or her. It is a process which seeks to respond to the needs of victims. Each victim is offered counselling and support. In particular, each victim is encouraged to take his or her case to the police where it involves criminal behaviour.
It was never the intention of Towards Healing to be a substitute for any criminal investigation. People approaching the Church are actively encouraged to inform the police of any criminal behaviour and the Church itself is likewise obliged to inform authorities.
Under Towards Healing, no two cases are the same. The process is substantially driven by the victim, each of whom has a different history, different objectives and different expectations. The process also depends heavily on the approach taken by the individuals who take part on behalf of the relevant Church body (Church Authority). Compassion and understanding from those people are critical to the success of the process. Each case, and each outcome, depends on the individuals involved on both sides and their engagement, and each case differs.
The main features of the Towards Healing process may be summarised briefly as follows:
- confidential – the victim need not have his or her story in the public domain
- relatively quick and inexpensive
- tailored to the needs of each victim as an individual
- facilitates re-establishment of relationship with the Church if that is desired
- offers an apology and acknowledgement by the Church Authority
- can provide financial payment as reparation, not compensation
- assists in prevention of future abuse
- seeks to assist in the psychological and spiritual healing of people affected by incidents of abuse.
All of those features contribute to making the process one which offers support for many victims and which can help victims begin the journey towards healing.
Towards Healing can and does provide many victims with the assistance they need in the very challenging process of seeking justice and healing, and potentially a degree of closure. It offers the possibility of outcomes which are not available or as readily achieved through other methods of dealing with the harm that has been suffered as a result of child sexual abuse.
Towards Healing seeks to respond to the differing circumstances and needs of individual victims. It does not attempt to produce like outcomes of the process for different victims. Even where two victims might have suffered similar forms of abuse, the effect on each may be materially different depending on their individual responses, circumstances and needs.
Each Church Authority acts autonomously in relation to outcomes under Towards Healing. The flexibility of the process and its implementation by the Church Authority most closely connected to the abuse enables it to respond in an appropriately tailored way to a wide range of different needs and circumstances.
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 victim. The complaint resolution process is explained, any mandatory reporting will occur, and counselling is also usually offered to the victim.
The victim 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 victim 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 Towards Healing process.
Once the contact report is received, if the victim has chosen not to go to the police, the allegations will be passed on to the relevant Church Authority. The Church Authority will put the allegations to the accused person if possible. At that point, the accused person may be stood aside pending investigation.
If the allegations are denied, and the Director of Professional Standards believes it necessary, an independent assessor may be appointed to investigate the allegations and make findings.
Depending on the findings of the assessment, a facilitator is then appointed to moderate a process for communication between the victim 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.
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.
An independent review process is available for people not satisfied with the process or the finding of an assessment.
Each victim is free to choose the process that will enable him or her better to achieve the objectives which he or she seeks.
The Towards Healing process, with its pastoral emphasis, is one whose features will appeal to some, and not to others. While one victim may choose Towards Healing, others may choose one or more of the other possible ways of dealing with the abuse that he or she has suffered.
Some victims have the option of taking civil action. Victims now frequently approach the Church outside Towards Healing, either personally or through a lawyer or a victims group. Many such cases are dealt with through legal engagement between lawyers acting for the Church Authority and lawyers acting for the victim. This sometimes involves a meeting of the victim and the Church Authority, not unlike a Towards Healing facilitation, at which the outcome of the civil claim is mediated and negotiated.
Clause 37.1 of Towards Healing explicitly states the Church’s strong preference that any complaint concerning an alleged crime be referred to the police so that it can be dealt with appropriately through the justice system.
Every victim is encouraged to take his or her complaint to the police where it involves criminal behaviour. The relevant Professional Standards Office can assist victims to report the matter to police. Where a victim does report the matter to the police the Towards Healing will be suspended pending the outcome of the matter. This is done to ensure that the Church does not interfere in any way with a police investigation. The victim may again approach the Church under Towards Healing after the criminal process is finalised.
Throughout the state the Queensland Police Service has investigators who are committed to providing an efficient, effective and professional service to the survivors of such crimes. They are provided with specialised training aimed at increasing their awareness of the many concerns and needs of the survivor of a rape or sexual assault. The investigators are stationed in metropolitan and regional centres throughout the state.
Not a Disciplinary Scheme
Towards Healing is not intended to operate as a disciplinary scheme for priests or members of religious institutes accused of abuse. Towards Healing cannot, and does not, embody a disciplinary code with standard penalties to be imposed on offenders. Inherent in the structure of the Church is the fact that each diocese or religious institute retains responsibility for decisions regarding the priests in that diocese or the members of that institute.
The accused person (even one who has admitted to the abuse or in respect of whom an assessment has found the complaint substantiated) also has legal rights, and is to be treated fairly under the Towards Healing procedures.
What Towards Healing does do is to set down a clear standard which every Church Authority should apply to its decisions regarding the accused, namely, that no-one should be permitted to exercise a public ministry if doing so presents an “unacceptable risk” of abuse to children, young people and vulnerable adults. Embedded in that standard is the principle that accused persons will be removed from such ministries where such an “unacceptable risk” exists, regardless of whether the guilt of such a person has been admitted or proved.
Towards Healing also provides support and guidance for Church leaders in making their decisions, by the establishment of Consultative Panels. The Directors of Professional Standards and the Executive Officers of the National Committee for Professional Standards are also available to advise Church leaders.
Not a Compensation Scheme
Towards Healing is not, and was never intended to be, a scheme for providing “compensation” to victims. Rather, its principal aim was and is to provide pastoral care. In most cases, however, a contribution of some financial assistance, as a form of reparation, may be made.
The distinction between compensation and reparation is important. Towards Healing outcomes are intended to be based on, and are reflective of, each person’s needs and current situation, regardless of whether legal liability could be established. Where money is paid, it does not equate to, and is not calculated by reference to, awards of damages which might hypothetically be awarded in adversarial civil proceedings, the pursuit of which has disadvantages for many victims. Moreover, the payments made in Towards Healing by way of reparation are not intended to equate to amounts calculated by courts in personal injury damages cases.
Each outcome in which assistance is provided to a victim as a result of the Towards Healing process is a tailored and individual outcome, responding to that individual’s circumstances, his or her present needs, and his or her own views about what would assist at that point in his or her life, work and relationships.
The fundamental point is that the process was never intended to be one for, or centred on, monetary compensation. The Towards Healing process is fundamentally pastoral, and any payment made in Towards Healing is by way of reparation, not compensation. Clause 36.5 of Towards Healing provides that if a complainant chooses to be represented by a lawyer in seeking ‘compensation’ from the Church, and is not seeking any form of pastoral support or other engagement with the Church, then the matter should proceed outside of Towards Healing. Those victims whose main focus is compensation generally choose another means of dealing with the complaint, such as civil litigation.
Towards Healing was not initially envisaged as one in which lawyers would play a significant part either on behalf of the victim or the Church Authority. Its emphasis is pastoral.
Thus Towards Healing provides, for example, that where a victim does not have a lawyer at a facilitation, there should not be a lawyer present for the Church Authority either.
However, as public awareness of the issue of child sexual abuse has risen, and plaintiff law firms specialising in the area have emerged, victims who go through the Towards Healing process are increasingly represented by legal counsel (including in some cases, by both solicitors and barristers).
The presence of lawyers can be constructive, for example by helping the victim to feel that his or her interests are safeguarded, and that another person is advocating for them.
From the Church’s perspective it is actually the increasing reliance on lawyers by victims which has brought about the increase in significance of the roles played by lawyers generally in the process. The increased interposition of lawyers has tended to result in an emphasis on monetary payments rather than the pastoral support that is at the heart of Towards Healing. This is not said by way of criticism of either victims or their lawyers, but merely to record how this change has come about.
Victims are, of course, entitled and encouraged to have the benefit of whatever support they need, including legal support, to enable them to cope with the challenge of surviving child sexual abuse.