Pastoral Letter to Catholic Parishes and Agencies re. Safeguarding practices
The events of last week involving the arrest of the Principal from St Joseph’s Catholic School Mundingburra have shocked the entire community. I too was deeply upset and surprised by the alleged actions.
What I did take some comfort in was that these events came from reports made by members within our community. This demonstrates a culture of reporting that has been at the forefront of formation within all our Catholic agencies in the Diocese.
Since taking up the role of Bishop of Townsville in 2017, I have committed my ministry to ensure the safeguarding practices with our agencies are best practice and ensure that the protection of children and vulnerable adults is of the highest standard. The Diocese has modelled its safeguarding practices on the excellent example that Townsville Catholic Education has had in place for many years.
Within our Parishes, the Diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator ensures that all Clergy, Diocesan and Parish staff and volunteers are provided with regular formation and our culture of reporting is supported.
I am confident that our Catholic Agencies, Townsville Catholic Education, Mary MacKillop Childcare North Queensland, Centacare North Queensland, Saints Catholic College, North West Queensland Indigenous Catholic Social Services and our parishes have thorough recruitment processes which include the candidate’s suitability for the role, qualifications, education, experience and a review of their professional conduct. Candidates are only deemed suitable for positions based on their ability to fulfil the role which includes not having any misconduct or performance concerns raised about them.
Our agencies follow a recruitment process that ensures our staff hold correct qualifications, state legislative requirements and professionalism to do their job. This includes relevant working with children checks.
Student Protection does not stop at the recruitment process. It is a requirement for all employees and volunteers across all agencies to have Student Protection training and subsequent compulsory refresher training.
This training is also compulsory for parents, carers and volunteers working in our schools and parishes. All volunteers must have completed the student protection training and be compliant for the year in which they wish to volunteer.
Our student protection training for staff, volunteers and students focuses on the importance of reporting any concern, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.
It is through raising awareness, educating and annual training that our people have a great awareness and know what to do if they feel something is not right. Everyone has an obligation to take accusations seriously and there is a moral obligation to investigate regardless of the concern.
This recent experience has confirmed for me the importance of our Safeguarding processes and training and that a culture of reporting is the best defence for the safety of our children and vulnerable adults in the community.
A culture of safety within the Church ensures that children and young people can actively and fully participate in the life of the Church and realise their potential in a faith community. I pray that with the help of everyone, we will continue the mission of Jesus Christ, with love, justice and the dignity of each human person at the heart of the Gospel.
MOST REV TIMOTHY J HARRIS
Bishop of Townsville