The LCA’s working group on issues relating to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is relieved to report that so far no subpoenas for church records have been received.
If requested by the Royal Commission, organisations must produce documents in relation to the alleged sexual abuse of children as far back as 1970 and even further if circumstances demand. But while no such ‘Notices to Produce’ have been received, the LCA cannot be complacent, the working group says.
‘Child sexual abuse is not something that happens only in other churches’, says Ms Liz Crawford, Director of the LCA’s Professional Standards Unit. ‘We have in fact been before the courts over issues of this nature.’ While these cases were not in relation to this Royal Commission and did not involve a pastor of the church, children were hurt or harmed while in the care of the church.
‘We cannot take the moral high ground’, she says. ‘Instead, we can learn from the experiences of those churches that have been subpoenaed and then publicly shamed because their lack of care was revealed during the Royal Commission public hearings. By creating a culture of loving care and by following best practice, we can become a church that is free from all forms of abuse.’
The working group urges LCA members to pray for all those who have been affected by abuse and to stand in solidarity and prayer with the churches that have been called to appear before the Royal Commission—‘we are all one body of Christ and we are in this together’.
‘Watching the Royal Commission’s activities unfold on the television and in the newspapers will bring back painful memories and re-open wounds for some people’, says Ms Crawford. ‘In our congregations there will be hurting people in need of sensitive pastoral care during this period and some may even speak for the first time of past abuse. Listen compassionately.’
The Professional Standards Unit is developing policies and procedures for rollout across the LCA that aim to keep people safe from harm, and also to minimise the church’s exposure to risk. Ms Crawford says, ‘We are aiming to build the fence at the top of the cliff, rather than needing an ambulance at the bottom’.
In the end, though, the church has a higher calling than enactment of its own policies and compliance with the laws of the land, the working group stresses.
‘Christ asks more of us’, group member Faye Schmidt says, referring to Matthew 25:31–40 [‘When did we see you hungry …?’] ‘He calls us to be aware, to open our hearts, eyes and ears to those around us, to those who are vulnerable and who require of us a true duty of care.
‘A key principle of the Royal Commission is whether institutions had been informed of an event—had it been reported?—and then, what action was taken? But Christ asks us to see. He doesn’t ask us to wait to be told about an incident or to wait until we are investigated. We are meant to see, to be aware, to be conscious of what is happening around us and to take action on behalf of the vulnerable.’
For more information about the Royal Commission and the activities of the LCA’s working group, visit www.lca.org.au/royal-commission-child-sexual-abuse.html