A BENDIGO bishop has backed a new plan to respond to allegations of child abuse within the Catholic Church, even as an advocate repeats calls for a completely independent process.
Shane Mackinlay is among four Victorian bishops and archbishops announcing a new model, Pathways Victoria, with independent investigative powers, trauma support and the capacity to reach settlements on behalf of the Church.
"As the bishops of the Catholic dioceses of Victoria, we acknowledge with great sorrow the immense harm and loss of trust that has been caused by sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church," they said in a joint statement.
"We renew our apology for this and our commitment to providing a fair and compassionate response to survivors."
The new model will begin dealing with all new complaints concerning Bendigo, Ballarat, Sale and Melbourne dioceses from January 1. People who already have complaints before the church will be able to ask for Pathways to handle theirs.
It will replace previous church schemes including the "Melbourne Response", which was introduced in 1996 by the then Melbourne Archbishop George Pell.
I would prefer there be one independent body that's not aligned to any institution that is assessing and responding to victim-survivors, regardless of the organisation.- Kate Wright, Centre Against Sexual Assault - Central Victoria
A 2015 royal commission tracked a family seeking redress through the Melbourne Response and found potential conflicts of interest among Church organisations that were supposed to be independent, and that the process could create inconsistencies in the way complaints were handled.
Advocate Kate Wright said the new process was "far superior" to the Melbourne Response and would be far more transparent for victim-survivors.
That said, the head of the Centre Against Sexual Violence Central Victoria did not believe enough safeguards were in place, based on the people her service worked with who had experienced institutional abuse.
"I would prefer there be one independent body that's not aligned to any institution that is assessing and responding to victim-survivors, regardless of the organisation," Ms Wright said.
People can choose to pursue institutions through the courts or a national redress scheme, Ms Wright said, but all created potential challenges for victim-survivors, including often flawed assessment methods for who received what amount of compensation.
Those prepared to take civil legal action against the church can often get more compensation than those who use church redress schemes, Ms Wright said.
"Some people might want to go through the redress with the Catholic Church because it's very important for them that it [the Church] validates what they experienced," she said.
"An apology is part of the Pathways process."
Pathways will allow for investigations into allegations of misconduct among a wide range of people including the clergy, lay preachers, employees, office holders and volunteers, as well as the dead.
Ms Wright welcomed safeguards against the "closed shop" internal investigations church figures had conducted in the organisation's past, saying Pathways would include oversight from non-clerical professionals.
Pathways will also allow whistleblowers within the church to make allegations to a "response and resolution director", rather than to a "relevant church authority".
"Investigations conducted by Pathways will respect the primacy of police processes and comply with any directions of the Commissioner for Children and Young People," Victorian bishops said in their public statement on Pathways.
"This new model offers a compassionate, person-centred, and trauma-informed response for the independent investigation of allegations of abuse and entering a process of resolution.
"While we are deeply conscious that no effort will ever be sufficient to repair the lifelong harm suffered by those who have been abused, their families and loved ones, and the entire People of God, we are committed to restorative journeying with survivors of abuse that is compassionate, fair, respectful, and accountable."
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