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11 September 2017 | by Mark Brolly

In the days after the Commissioner’s address, General Synod approved rules to protect children that are binding on all clergy and church workers

Australia is a country where “people have lost trust completely” in the Church, according to Jesuit Fr Hans Zollner, a founding member of Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Fr Zollner, who is also President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, told church workers in Brisbane that “there seems to be almost nil trust in what the Church says”, The Catholic Leader newspaper reported on 7 September.

“This is not true in other parts of the world,” he said. “I think you are in a pretty unique situation.”

Fr Zollner said while many countries in Europe and North America had been dealing for some years with effectively safeguarding against sexual abuse, most countries were still yet to grapple with the issue.

“It has not yet hit the surface of public interest and discussion and news in 75 per cent of countries, if not more,” he said. “I cannot say where or when it will hit, but it will hit.”

Still in Queensland, one of the six Royal Commissioners into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Mr Robert Fitzgerald, told the triennial General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia in Maroochydore that it must frame a nationally consistent approach to the protection of children.

Mr Fitzgerald expressed confidence that the Church could regain the trust and confidence of the Australian community, though “not easily, not quickly and not without some pain”.

He also said legal and other advice to Church leaders had played a part in the scandal: “It must be bleedingly obvious to all of us today that that advice was wrong then and wrong now. The Church’s reputation was not ultimately saved, in fact it was demeaned and diminished, and it could have been avoided had a different approach and different questions and had different values been applied…”

Mr Fitzgerald, a prominent Catholic layman who has served as New South Wales President of the St Vincent de Paul Society and as a national committee member of Caritas Australia, told the Synod of how the shadow of the abuse crisis had affected his personal experience of parish life.

“I was recently at my local church and they were calling the children forward for the children’s liturgy and I could barely look at the faces of those nine and 10 and 11-year-old children, who had the same aspirations, the same sense of joy, the same sense of hope as those who were abused had and they were the same age,” he said. “Indeed in the Anglican Church, the average age of the first abuse of a child was when they were 10-and-a-half years old.”

In the days after the Commissioner’s address, General Synod approved rules to protect children that are binding on all clergy and church workers, including regular independent audits to be published publicly; the establishment of an independent company to handle complaints and compensation to victims of sex abuse – enabling the Church to join the Australian Government’s proposed national redress scheme — as well as measures to respond to complaints against diocesan bishops, including former bishops.

PICTURE: The sexual abuse crisis has damaged the Australian Church. Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell is pictured arriving for his first court appearance in July as he fights historical sexual offence charges