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Commission reviews Melbourne’s handling of child-safety complaints

10 March 2023

THE Commission for Children and Young People in the State of Victoria, in south-eastern Australia, is undertaking a review of Melbourne diocese’s handling of complaints relating to child safety.

The commission has told survivors and survivors’ groups that its investigation, which is expected to take more than six months, is not investigating any individual cases but, instead, the diocese’s management of complaints, to see whether they meet the state’s minimum standards for child safety.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that the diocese was happy to co-operate with the Victorian commission’s investigation. “We do have confidence in our child-safety protocols, but [we] are always open to improvements when these are identified,” he said.

Steve Fisher, the chief executive of Beyond Abuse, a survivor-advocacy group, has written to the commission, saying that the diocese has failed survivors, ignored serious complaints, failed to gather evidence properly, and not communicated adequately with victims. He questioned claims that Kooyoora, the company that administers the diocese’s professional-standards legislation, was independent from the Church, since it receives funding from the diocese, and church officials sit on its board and professional-standards panels.

The diocese has been criticised for delays in its investigation of allegations against a former Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Peter Hollingworth. He lives in retirement in the diocese, where he has permission to officiate.

Dr Hollingworth resigned as Archbishop, after 11 years in post, when he was appointed Governor-General in 2001. He resigned from office in 2003 after an independent report said that he had mishandled sexual-abuse claims when he was Archbishop. He has not been accused of any abuse himself, but several survivors have called for him to be deposed from Holy Orders.

Last month, Melbourne diocese’s professional-standards board conducted a closed hearing about Dr Hollingworth’s fitness for ministry (News, 10 February). No outcome has yet been announced.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which concluded in 2017, found that, in 1993, as Archbishop, Dr Hollingworth had allowed a priest to continue serving as a parish rector despite evidence of paedophile behaviour. The Royal Commission described it as a “serious error of judgement”, for which Dr Hollingworth apologised (News, 20 November 2015).

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