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Fact check: the churches joining child abuse redress scheme

Churches and institutions are being called upon to join the Federal Government’s national scheme to financially compensate victims of child sexual abuse.

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In early 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended the establishment of the national redress scheme. This included a call for churches to come up with a national response to the proposed national redress scheme.

The scheme is opt-in, meaning that any state, institution or church which does not want to sign up to compensate victims with payments of up to $150,000, will not be obliged to do so. The scheme also includes the provision of access to counselling and psychological services and a direct personal response from each participating institution responsible for the abuse, if requested by the survivor.

The Royal Commission estimated that about 60,000 children were sexually abused in institutions, but only approximately 1000 of them in Commonwealth institutions. For the scheme to provide compensation to the majority of survivors, state governments, institutions and churches will need to sign on to it.

Legislation to establish the scheme was tabled last week. If it passes, survivors will be allowed to apply for compensation from July 1, 2018.

As Eternity understands it, only one denomination has publicly committed to joining the scheme.

The Catholic Church has, since the beginning of the Royal Commission in 2013, said that it would join a national scheme.

“The Catholic Church … supports and will be part of a national redress scheme.” – Francis Sullivan

In a press release on October 26, Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council (which coordinates the Catholic Church’s response to the Royal Commission) said, “The Catholic Church has said from the very start of the discussions around redress that it supports and will be part of a national redress scheme as recommended by the Royal Commission. In other words it’s over to the states.”

ABC News reported Sullivan saying, “We’ve been advised that the Commonwealth has constitutional advice that unless the states opt in, unless they participate, then churches and institutions in those states can’t participate.”

In September, the Anglican Church of Australia voted to establish an independent company to handle complaints and compensation for victims of child sexual abuse, which will enable them to join the national redress scheme in the future.

Barney Zwartz, communications advisor for the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, told Eternity that “no decision had been made” and that the church was “waiting for more details.” He said that the church was “preparing to join,” but that it hasn’t yet been approved.

At this stage the Presbyterian Church of Australia has not responded nationally, but rather are deciding on a state-by-state basis. Jeoffrey Hall, the general manager of the Presbyterian Church of NSW told Eternity, “we are still considering it. We are committed to the principle of it, we like what it says, we’ve had very good conversations with the government about the wording of it. [But] we haven’t resolved to opt in. We’re waiting to see the full effect of it; if all the other states and institutions will be opting in as well.”

The Baptists are also waiting for more information about the “potential administration costs of this system,” according to Keith Jobberns, National Ministries Director for Australian Baptist Ministries.

“We’re very committed to being involved in a national scheme in principle. But we’re not in a position to make a final statement.” – Keith Jobberns

Jobberns said, “we fully endorse the intent to have a national scheme that’s more equitable for those who’ve sadly been abused. We’re very committed to being involved in a national scheme in principle. But we’re not in a position to make a final statement.”

In September 2015, and again in April 2016, the Salvation Army issued press releases to state their support of a national redress scheme. Leader of The Salvation Army (Eastern Territory), Commissioner James Condon, said in one of the press releases, “Ultimately, The Salvation Army will support a national redress scheme that meets the needs of survivors and incorporates the views of the broader Australian community.” It is not clear whether the church itself will join the national redress scheme.

Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, said in a press release, “A national scheme provides the best possible chance for justice for survivors and is the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”

“Clearly ongoing commitments will be required by institutions and all governments. Our church stands ready to play its part.”

McMillan told Eternity, “I welcome the Federal Government’s introduction of legislation for a redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions. At the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and in all our conversations with the Federal Government, the Uniting Church has continuously advocated for a single national redress scheme.

“We will continue to work constructively with the Federal Government and other parties towards the implementation of an equitable, sustainable and truly national scheme.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Christian Churches said, “Australian Christian Churches have been involved in round table discussions and consultation on the Redress Scheme, initially with the Royal Commission and more recently with the Redress Taskforce. We will be making a final decision when more details of the legislation and operation of the scheme are released.”

Tim Ross, manager of the Professional Standards Department of the Lutheran Church of Australia, told Eternity, “we are liaising positively with the Department of Social Services, but we haven’t made any commitment yet, and have not given an ‘in principle’ agreement.”

The Seventh Day Adventist church is seriously considering opting into the scheme but is also waiting for more information about it, according to Natalie Renshaw, the redress officer at Adsafe Limited. “We’re certainly having discussions with the Commonwealth Government about the redress scheme, and are pleased there will be one that organisations can opt into.”

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