Church faces 104 abuse complaints

The Australian/September 4, 2004

Australia's second largest Anglican diocese has fielded 104 new allegations of abuse and harassment by members of the church over the past 15 months following the introduction of a new protocol for dealing with complaints.

Delegates to the annual Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne were told today that three matters were now the subject of police investigations.

A third of the complaints related to sexual abuse of children, another third to adult sexual assault, inappropriate adult sexual relationships or sexual harassment, and the final third to bullying and other forms of abuse of power.

Just 21 of the 104 new disclosures of abuse and six active cases continued from previous arrangements have been or are being formally investigated, including the three referred to police.

The remainder were closed without requiring formal investigation.

Nine of the complaints involved schools and respondents have included ordained ministers, lay ministers, employees and volunteers.

A report to delegates said a financial settlement had been made in a very small number of cases, while a number of respondents had resigned as a result of the process.

The complaints have been lodged over a 15-month period following the introduction of a protocol called Power and Trust in the Church in late-2002.

It pledges to treat all complaints seriously, to provide professional support to complainants, to respect the rights of respondents to complaints, provide a transparent process and to refer any possible illegal behaviour to police.

It also vows that the church hierarchy will be kept at a distance from the handling of complaints.

The protocol is administered by an independent director of professional standards.

The diocese has established a 1800 phone number to receive complaints, and appointed an expert panel of psychologists and investigators.

The Melbourne model has been adopted in all five Victorian dioceses.

Delegates were given an update on the protocols during today's final session of the Synod in Melbourne.

Opening the Synod on Wednesday, Archbishop Peter Watson said progress was being made towards a more caring and compassionate outreach to victims of abuse.

"At the same time we are growing in understanding of what it means to be more transparent and sensitive in our handling of this hurtful and damaging issue," he said.

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