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Archbishop Costelloe's response to clergy abuse themed drama


Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery star in a scene from the movie "Spotlight," which chronicles the Boston Globe's uncovering of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002. Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has this week written a moving response in the lead up to the clergy abuse themed drama. Photo: CNS/Open Road Films.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has this week written a moving response in the lead up to the release of the clergy abuse themed drama, Spotlight.

Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachael McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery, the film tells the story of the award winning investigative work of journalists at The Boston Globe in the late 1990’s, who uncovered evidence that the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up sexual abuse and silence victims through payoffs, legal threats and personal intimidation.

The Australian release of the movie Spotlight, which details the uncovering of the sexual abuse of minors in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and in the United States of America more generally, tragically has many parallels for the Catholic Church in Australia.

Here, too, defenceless and innocent children and young people were sexually abused by priests, religious and other Church personnel. Their faith and their lives were profoundly damaged, if not destroyed, by this terrible betrayal. When they found the courage to tell their stories they were often not believed, or treated with dignity, or offered any assistance to deal with the legacy of the abuse. Sometimes they had to endure the pain of seeing their abusers moved from place to place, putting more innocent young people in danger.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, continues its vital work of investigating this terrible scourge which is, to our great shame as a nation, far more widespread in institutional settings than any of us have previously realised.

In our Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, we are fully committed to a number of key tasks and actions in response to this horrifying reality. We now have a well-resourced Professional Standards Office, which seeks to respond as objectively, compassionately and justly as possible to anyone who comes forward with a complaint about sexual abuse.

We have compulsory psychological assessments for any person applying to join our seminaries, prior to their formal acceptance, and we have ongoing formation for our seminarians in the areas of human and especially psycho-sexual development, and in the codes of conduct required by those who minister in our Church.

Our Catholic schools have clear policies in relation to the well-being and protection of children under their care, and very clear protocols for dealing with complaints or concerns. All clergy and others in our Catholic Community who work with children are required to have a current Working With Children Card. This requirement is monitored both at the local level and by the central diocesan office, and is of course a requirement for employment in our schools.

We have established a Safeguarding Office, which organises and conducts Professional Development programs for our clergy in the area of child protection and we have initiated a program of Safeguarding Officers in our parishes, whose responsibility it is to be an immediate point of contact for any child, young person or adult who has concerns about sexual abuse of minors. The Safeguarding Officers also monitor, in conjunction with the Safeguarding Office, compliance with the policies and procedures adopted by the Archdiocese for the safety of all parishioners, and in particular children and young people.

And in all of this, we await the final recommendations of the Royal Commission and stand ready to change or augment our safeguarding policies and procedures where necessary.

In light of the terrible suffering inflicted on innocent children and young people by members of the Church in the past, we are determined to do everything we can to ensure that no one suffers in this way again, now or in the future.

The screening of Spotlight, even as it reveals a terrible and painful story, is an opportunity for all of us in the Church to acknowledge the extent to which some of our brothers and sisters, including our leaders, have failed so badly, also here in Australia, to be the signs and bearers of God's love and compassion they were expected, and appointed, to be.

More importantly it can be an opportunity to re-double our efforts to assist those who have been the victims, and now survivors, of this terrible abuse and for whom the screening of this movie might well open up painful wounds. And it must reinforce our shared determination to make our parishes and other institutions and agencies places of absolute safety for our children and young people.

I would encourage anyone who has a complaint about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to immediately contact the police. If you need help to do so, you can contact our Professional Standards Office for advice and assistance. The contact details for the Professional Standards Office and for our archdiocesan Safeguarding Office are provided below. And if you do not wish to go to the police at this time, our Professional Standards Office will explain the protocols of Towards Healing, the process the Church follows to deal with such matters if the complainant does not wish to go the police.

As the current Archbishop of Perth, I want to conclude by once again offering a deeply and painfully felt apology to all those who have suffered sexual abuse as children by members of the clergy, religious orders or other Church workers or representatives. You were betrayed in the most terrible way possible by those from whom you had a right to expect nothing but goodness and fidelity. So many of you have lost so much, including perhaps your faith in the Church.

Please do not give up on God.

You are carried in the hearts, the minds and the prayers of the Catholic community.

+Archbishop Tim Costelloe

Western Australian Professional Standards Office
29 Victoria Square, Perth WA 6000
Director: Mr Peter Stoyles
Telephone: (08) 9221 7762

Safeguarding Office
29 Victoria Square, Perth WA 6000
Safeguarding Project Coordinator: Ms Andrea Musulin
Telephone: (08) 9221 7762