The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has urged Church members to help ensure the Church’s commitments to child safety are honoured as a result of the landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
At the Royal Commission’s final sitting in Sydney today, Chief Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan warned that the sexual abuse of children is not just a problem from the past.
“Poor practices, inadequate governance structures, failures to record and report complaints, or understating the seriousness of complaints, have been frequent,” Justice McClellan said.
He went on to say: “If the problems we have identified are to be adequately addressed, changes must be made. There must be changes in the culture, structure and governance practices of many institutions.”
In a Pastoral Statement issued to coincide with the end of the Royal Commission, Mr McMillan has welcomed the Commission’s Final Report and thanked the Commissioners and staff for their work.
“We will consider the Final Report carefully, reflect on its findings and recommendations, and implement measures to deliver the best quality of care, service and support for children in our churches, agencies and schools,” Mr McMillan said.
“At this time, I would again like to sincerely apologise to all children in our care who suffered sexual abuse in our Church, whether it happened after our foundation in 1977 or before that, in our predecessor Churches.
Since its opening sitting in Melbourne on April 2013 more than 15000 people within its terms of reference have contacted the Royal Commission. More than 8000 people spoke with a Commissioner in a private session, most of whom had never been to the police or any other authority to report the abuse.
The Royal Commission reported more than 2500 allegations to police from which 230 prosecutions have been commenced. More than 1300 survivors also provided a written account of their experiences.
Every person who attended a private session was invited to contribute a short anonymous “Message to Australia”. These powerful messages have been published on the Royal Commission’s website and in a volume which will be kept in the National Library of Australia.
“We must never forget the courage of survivors who’ve come forward to tell their stories in public and in private,” Mr McMillan said.
“The Uniting Church will continue to work constructively with government and other stakeholders for a truly national redress scheme, as the most equitable way to support survivors wherever they might be.
“Our Church’s commitment is that we will seek to make amends and strive to ensure others will not suffer as they have. Our prayers and a determined focus will be required if we are to build a robust culture of child safety.”
Mr McMillan said the work of the Commission was to be commended.
“On this occasion too I want to acknowledge the extensive and invaluable body of work produced by the Royal Commission and its staff, and remind all Church members of our solemn commitment to child safety that is informed by the Commission’s work,” said Mr McMillan.
“With the collaboration of synods and many others across our Church, we have begun applying the learnings of the Royal Commission through a National Child Safe Policy Framework.
“The work of implementation will continue to be resourced into the future through the National Royal Commission Task Group and support staff, who will work to incorporate the recommendations of the Final Report in the weeks and months ahead.”
“I urge all Church members to remain vigilant, to ensure that wherever you are in our Church, agencies or schools, you are focussed on child safety. If you are a Church member and would like information about safe church training, please contact your synod or presbytery.”
“In the years ahead, may God grant us the strength and wisdom to honour our pledge to be the safest church we can be for children.”
The Pastoral Statement includes prayers for Uniting Church members to mark the end of the Royal Commission in personal or corporate worship.
Discussing these issues can raise difficult emotions and past memories. If you or someone you know needs help, please call:
1800 RESPECT (1 800 737 732)
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467