This weekend, new ground will be established for the Australian Catholic Church as the first ever launch of an Archdiocesan-wide Safeguarding Project is presented across the parishes of the Archdiocese of Perth.
Each parish community will be invited, after careful and prayerful consideration, to select from amidst its members two suitable individuals – either two women, or a woman and a man – to become the parish’s safeguarding officers.
The magazine of this week’s Weekend West newspaper features an article that covers the launch. In a recent interview with a journalist from The West Australian, Archbishop Costelloe spoke in some detail about the project and its importance in the life of the Archdiocese at this time.
“Everybody knows that the topic of child sexual abuse is probably the biggest challenge the Church in Australia is facing at the moment,” said Archbishop Costelloe.
“People have suffered at the hands of religious and clergy and this has had terrible impacts on their lives, with them sometimes being destroyed.”
The Archbishop sees the Church in Australia bearing “a great sense of shame, a great sense of horror” that people dedicated to God and to God’s people would commit such atrocities. “I feel this personally as Archbishop,” he pointed out, “and it simply needs to be dealt with. I have been very clear about this. I knew, when appointed as Archbishop, that I would have to make this one of my major priorities, which I am trying to do.”
He spoke of much having been done to improve matters, with focus initially being on better resourcing the Church’s Professional Standards office in Western Australia to respond more efficiently to survivors who come forward.
“That is dealing with the past, which must never be minimised,” the Archbishop stated. “We have to do everything possible, to the extent that we can, to bring some hope and healing to those who have been abused and for whom the damage plays itself out, often for decades afterwards.
“Equally important is that, as far as we are able, we have to make sure that nobody suffers in the present and in the future in the way that people suffered in the past. No child must be put at risk any more. For me, that is a big priority. We cannot just sit back and do nothing. We must make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Present structures are being examined to ensure that parishes, and other communities such as schools, are the safest places they can be for children and young people today and into the future. “So, the Safeguarding Project is at the heart of our efforts and determination to make sure the present and the future are completely different from the past,” the Archbishop emphasised.
“What drives me is the realisation of the terrible damage that [child sexual abuse] causes and the pain it brings into the victim’s life, as well as the often devastating effects on the wider family, on friends and on our wider society, in general.
“We thought long and hard about how we would go about this. We looked at what was done overseas to try and find something that didn’t just serve a diocese as a whole but that would impact and be grounded at a local level.
“The schools are already well catered for,” he said, “but we wanted someone in the local parish to be a point of contact for people to go to with any concerns about this issue of child sexual abuse.”
The Archbishop spoke of responding to people’s “very practical concerns” relating to someone who comes to a parish, someone who works in a parish, or a child in the parish who seems unusually distressed.
“My goal is to see Catholic parishes being the safest places possible for children. The perception at the moment is that this is not the case.”
Although concerned for the future of the Church, Archbishop Costelloe went one step further, stating that “this is about the future of the Church, that’s true, but it’s also about the future of our young people first and foremost”.
“When you begin to understand the awful pain this brings into people’s lives, you just feel obliged to do all you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“People won’t listen to any of the good things the Church has to say until they are convinced we are doing all we can wherever we can to put right the wrongs of the past and to make every effort possible to change the future,” he expressed.
“The Safeguarding Project is a critical aspect of doing exactly this.”