Church’s Abuse Protocols and Policies: Everyone Should Know Them
Fr Michael Lewis SJ, Chair: SACBC Professional Conduct Committee – Colleen Constable in her opinion article “Abuse: Can we trust Church leaders?” raises a very important issue: that of abuse in the Catholic Church.
Her column was prompted by the Chilean abuse saga. Pope Francis, after meeting with the victims of abuse in Chile, summoned the bishops of Chile to Rome so that he could speak to them.
I would like to clarify what the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has in place, which all Catholics should know about so that the Church in the region can be held accountable.
The SACBC takes sexual abuse seriously; it is a crime against children and vulnerable people. It has had protocols in place since 1999. All are available on the SACBC website.
The protocol outlines clearly what must happen when abuse has allegedly taken place.
Each diocese should have appointed independent contact persons. The name and contact details of this person, as well as those of the local police station, should be available in poster form on all parish noticeboards in the SACBC region.
To be clear: the protocols and policies state that allegations must be reported to the police/competent civil authorities in the first instance, as required by the amended Children’s Act of 2006.
The contact person must advise the alleged victim (or the parents/guardians if a minor) of their right and duty to report the case to the civil authorities.
If they refuse to do so, the Church authority will do so, following the prescriptions of civil authorities regarding the reporting of allegations of this kind. This ensures that reporting does occur outside the Church.
Once this is done, the Church allows the law to take its course: the matter is handled by the necessary civil authorities.
Once the civil process has been completed, the Church could then initiate its own investigation, if this is deemed necessary.
The SACBC agrees with Ms Constable: nobody, including clerics and Church workers, is above the law. In policy currently being established, all clerics and Church workers must have police clearance to work in Church institutions.
The Church in the region of the SACBC is fully committed to dealing with this scourge. We encourage all Catholics in the region to be familiar with the SACBC’s safeguarding protocols and policy so that we are vigilant in ensuring that no abuse occurs.