BENDIGO Anglican Bishop Matt Brain had a simple message following the national apology to survivors of child sexual abuse: actions must speak louder than words.
The apology was the next step in the healing process after the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse concluded, and was delivered a few months after the National Redress Scheme was launched.
The redress scheme itself has encountered criticism from survivors, as well as the Anglican Church, for its “sliding scale” with a maximum amount of $150,000. It does not take into account the consequences of the abuse.
Bishop Matt Brain said survivors needed to have a voice into the future as churches sought to reform, and their feedback on the redress scheme must be considered.
“The apology will only be symbolic if action doesn’t follow up the words,” he said.
“I think the survivors of abuse have very clearly given commentary on the inadequacies of the National Redress Scheme. I think their voices should be listened to.
“It’s not only the amount of money that’s at issue, but the way it gets delivered. The sliding scale – it doesn’t necessarily take into account the consequences of the abuse of a person’s life.
“The other aspect is it’s time limited. Only people who fall within a certain period of time can access that scheme.”
In order to get on the front foot, the Anglican Dioceses of Melbourne and Bendigo introduced Kooyoora Ltd – an independent body to follow through complaints, screen those entering the clergy and manage a redress scheme additional to the National Redress Scheme.
This measure, too, encountered criticism.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten voiced her concerns in parliament, believing the Anglican Church was encouraging people to report abuse to Kooyoora instead of the police.
Despite Kooyoora’s charter stating abuse must be reported to police “where required by law”, Ms Patten maintained her concern that there was a “subjective element” in Kooyoora forming a “reasonable belief” that a crime occurred under the Crimes Act.
Bishop Brain said any suggestion of child abuse in the Anglican Church would immediately be reported to police.
“As part of our training, people are told very clearly if we’re talking about abuse of a child, that’s automatically a criminal offence,” he said.
“The first port of call is always the police. That doesn’t stop people making a report to Kooyoora, and ultimately that’s where any feedback from the police will go in terms of any discipline that needs to occur.
“But very clearly those who have been hurt have the right, and I encourage them to contact the police.
“That’s how we train all of our clergy and non-clergy workers.”
He must also report the issue to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
Rebuilding the community’s faith with the Anglican Church was central to the establishment of Kooyoora, which Bishop Brain believed was a “proactive” response to fixing mistakes of the past.
This rebuilding of faith will need to happen quickly and effectively for Bendigo’s religious institutions.
The 2016 Census painted an uncomfortable picture, showing those who identified with “no religion” in Bendigo increasing from 26.8 per cent in 2011 to 35.9 per cent in 2016. Both the Catholic and Anglican churches saw significant drops in numbers.
Bishop Brain said it could come down to people being more honest with the Census, rather than simply ticking the religious box of their ancestry.
But he conceded trust needed to be rebuilt to reverse any trends.
“Very clearly there’s been a betrayal of trust. It’s hard to have affiliation with something you don’t trust,” Bishop Brain said.
“Whereas in a previous era we might have just ticked a box in the Census, but now they’re saying they just can’t tick that box anymore.
“That’s a good opportunity for us to represent what it is that we believe. Hopefully we can do that in a kind and loving way.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s apology was explicitly directed at those who suffered abuse from the church, foster homes, orphanages, schools, sporting clubs, charities and more.
Kate Wright, chief executive officer of the Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault, said the apology was welcome, but children were continuing to suffer abuse in Bendigo.
“To ensure trauma does not continue – parents, community, organizations and schools must value and support children in an empowered way,” she said.
“We know that sexual abuse continues in Australian homes, perpetrated by care giver figures.
“Recent crime statistics in the greater Bendigo region showed a 43% increase in reporting of sexual crimes, with a large portion of those committed against children and young people.”
And, as Bishop Brain mentioned, while an apology was given for historical child sexual abuse, there was still child abuse occurring.
“As an Australian, I think it’s good that the government is apologising for this abuse,” he said.
“As an Australian, I would love to see the government fix up the mess that’s been created in our name with asylum seekers.
“I don’t think it’s one or the other, I think it’s both.”
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