Information for Diocesan workers subject to inquiry

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Being subject of alleged misconduct

The Diocese promotes an absolute commitment to the safety, welfare and well-being of all children and vulnerable persons.  We pay particular attention to those who are:

  • part of our faith communities in parishes
  • receiving assistance through CatholicCare Social Services or other diocesan community programs
  • enrolled at a Catholic systemic school
  • attending St Nicholas Early Education Centre and OOSH programme.

As part of this commitment, any allegation relating to a diocesan worker acting in an inappropriate or abusive way towards a child or vulnerable person is taken seriously.  Where appropriate, an inquiry into the allegations may be conducted.

The diocesan worker subject of the allegation is known as the respondent.  The term is accurate.  It means one or more allegation has been made about the worker’s conduct and they are asked “to respond” to the proposition they behaved in the alleged manner. The term avoids emotive terms such as “the accused” or “alleged abuser”, or Police terms such as “person of interest”.

Any diocesan worker may be the respondent in an administrative inquiry. The Diocese does not assume the respondent has done anything inappropriate or abusive.  The Office of Safeguarding has the responsibility to oversee or conduct an administrative inquiry to ascertain whether there are sufficient grounds to establish the alleged conduct did occur.

This webpage is an attempt to provide detailed but concise advice on what should occur when a diocesan worker is the respondent in an administrative inquiry.

The nature of an administrative inquiry conducted by the Diocese

Administrative inquiries conducted by the Diocese are:

Employed investigators conduct our inquiries, not statutory officers, and they are not part of the criminal justice system. There is no “presumption of innocence” because innocence or guilt is not considered.  Diocesan inquiries apply the civil standard “on balance of probabilities”, not the higher criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” nor the canonical standard “moral certitude”.

Derived from Canon Law, being inquisitorial is simply a process of attempting to elicit the truth.  The pursuit of evidence is impartial; the diocesan investigator has no interest in “proving” or “disproving” allegations. The intent of the investigator is to maximise their ability to make as fully an informed decision as is reasonably possible.  Diocesan inquiries are process driven, not results driven.

Diocesan inquiries are confidential.  All parties involved in a diocesan inquiry are expected to respect the confidentiality of the process.  A serious breach of confidentiality may affect the integrity of an inquiry.

Administrative inquiries are procedurally fair to those parties whose interests may be affected by the inquiry, primarily the respondent but also the complainant or alleged victim. To the Diocese, a procedurally fair inquiry requires that:

  • the investigator acts without bias and there are no known unresolved conflicts of interest during the process
  • inquiries are conducted without undue delay, allowing for the pre-eminence of criminal or statutory inquiries being resolved before diocesan inquiries
  • the respondent has sufficient information to be able to respond to any allegations made against them
  • the respondent has reasonable opportunity to respond (to put their case), whether at interview or in written submission
  • all parties relevant to the inquiry receive an equitable hearing, considering all submissions and making all reasonable inquiries before making a finding
  • the respondent is properly informed of the grounds for any adverse decisions or comments made about them.

Determining the seriousness of an administrative inquiry

All allegations about diocesan workers acting abusively or inappropriately towards children or vulnerable persons are taken seriously.  All administrative inquiries are equally important but some inquiries are assessed as being more “serious” than others.

The Diocese will conduct inquiries at a level commensurate with the apparent seriousness of the allegation(s) that have been made. If the alleged conduct would amount to a minor breach of professional standards (should it be sustained), the local leadership, with Office of Safeguarding overseeing, may conduct the inquiry.

Matters are considered “more serious” if one or more of the following factors are present.

  1. The nature of the allegation(s). Any allegation that involves:
    • criminality or potential criminality
    • allegations of sexual misconduct.
  1. The role and authority of the respondent in the Diocese. For example:
    • a supervisor or manager, particularly senior leadership
    • a “whole of life” carer of the alleged victim, such as an authorised (foster) carer
    • a priest or deacon providing ministry for the Diocese.
  1. The respondent has been the subject of prior allegations or concerns. These include:
    • prior inquiries
    • a pattern of prior complaints against the respondent
    • the existence of current disciplinary proceedings or performance management.
  1. Relevant tertiary considerations. The presence or significant potential for:
    • media interest
    • involvement of an external party (such as a local parliamentarian) advocating on behalf of one or more of the parties
    • any alleged or established conflicts of interest
    • other alleged irregularities that threaten to undermine confidence in the integrity of the investigative process.

‘Reportable allegations’, those inquiries that are conducted under Part 4 Children’s Guardian Act 2019, are considered more serious.

Being advised of an administrative inquiry

As part of the planning process that the Office of Safeguarding undertakes at the beginning of an administrative inquiry, a decision is made when it is most appropriate to advise the respondent that they are the subject of an administrative inquiry.

Where there is a criminal investigation being conducted, Police usually request that the respondent not be advised of the allegations against them, until the Police are prepared to advise them.

It is often in the respondent’s best interests not to be advised of being subject of inquiry until such times as the investigator has completed their ‘preliminary inquiries’ and are ready to provide the respondent with the ‘definitive allegations’ because:

  • The respondent’s experience of the administrative inquiry is relatively brief. Not being informed until later in the inquiry reduces the levels of stress the respondent may experience while waiting for preliminary inquiries to be completed.
  • Being unaware of the inquiry protects the respondent from allegations of collusion or otherwise attempting to compromise the integrity of the administrative inquiry.

However, there are circumstances that may require the respondent to be advised earlier, including:

  • the confidentiality of the inquiry having been compromised or that it is likely to be compromised
  • the need to implement temporary safety measures (refer below)
  • external authorities advising the respondent as part of a statutory investigation.

When the respondent is advised prior to preliminary inquiries having been completed, the respondent is advised in general terms of the nature of the allegations and will be kept advised of the progress of the inquiry.

Risk management and temporary safety measures

No findings are made until the completion of an administrative inquiry.  However, the investigator must balance the perceived and actual risks inherent in a diocesan worker remaining in their work role, after they have been alleged to have acted inappropriately or abusively towards a child or vulnerable person.

The investigator undertakes an initial assessment of risk, in consultation with the respondent’s supervisor, specialist advice from relevant Shared Services, Diocesan leadership and the investigator’s manager.  The investigator continues to review and assess the risk during an administrative inquiry.

The assessment considers a number of key areas of risk.  In making the assessment of risk there is a bias towards the safety of children and vulnerable persons, balanced against the Diocese’s determination to cause the least possible disruption to the respondent’s work.

If there is a ‘real and appreciable’ risk, the local diocesan leadership may implement temporary safety measures with advice from the Office of Safeguarding.

Temporary safety measures are an attempt to protect the respondent as much as to protect children or vulnerable persons involved in an administrative inquiry.

Temporary safety measures may include the respondent:

  • being provided increased or varied supervisory arrangements in the workplace
  • giving certain undertakings
  • being placed on alternative or restricted duties
  • being temporarily reassigned to a different workplace
  • being suspended from normal duties or being stood aside from ministry (with retention of all current benefits).

The assessed level of risk has no relationship to the eventual findings of the inquiry. Any temporary safety measure does not support the validation of any allegations, just as the lack of temporary safety measures does not indicate the allegation will not be sustained.

Support for the respondent

Being a respondent can be stressful.  The Office of Safeguarding can arrange counselling support with an agreed third-party provider if normal counselling support is not available.  Most diocesan workers have access to funded counselling through EAP (the Employee Assistance Program).  The Office of Safeguarding will fund reasonable counselling costs for the respondent if they identify a need for psychological support.

The respondent’s local leader will be aware of the inquiry.  The local leader is responsible for ensuring the respondent has access to them, to discuss any issues of concern.  The local leader is expected to:

  • maintain regular contact with the respondent, for example, regular “well-being” checks, either face-to-face meetings or phone calls
  • protect the integrity of the inquiry, for example, ensure there is no discussion about the inquiry among the local workgroup
  • ensure there is as little disruption to the respondent’s work routine as is reasonable (allowing for possible temporary safety measures having been enacted).

It is usually in the respondent’s best interests to have a support person to assist them through an administrative inquiry.  The support person can act as the respondent’s go-between with the investigator, be a witness to interviews, and help the respondent prepare written responses.  If the respondent is a member of a union or professional association, the Diocese recommends the respondent to contact them.  The respondent can have a union or association representative support them during the process.

If the allegation involves potential criminal conduct the respondent should consider engaging a solicitor.

If the respondent has any special needs, the investigator will make all reasonable adaptions to ensure the respondent is afforded an equitable opportunity to participate in the inquiry, if they choose to do so.  The respondent may consider engaging Disability Advocacy NSW as a support.

Steps in an administrative inquiry — provision of information and rights of reply

Before the respondent is asked to make any statements, the investigator undertakes ‘preliminary inquiries’ which is a process of evidence gathering, which will be conducted to a level commensurate with the seriousness of the investigation being conducted.  The investigator gathers sufficient evidence to formulate ‘definitive allegations’ to which the respondent is asked to respond, this is the respondent’s first right of reply.

Definitive allegations will contain a level of detail and specificity of the alleged conduct sufficient to facilitate the respondent’s ability to respond.  The allegations should include the most accurate detail achievable from the preliminary inquiries, including the specific particulars of the alleged conduct as well as the temporal and geographic locations of the conduct.  As part of being given adequate information, the respondent is entitled to know the identity of the alleged victim, unless there is serious cause not to.

The respondent is not entitled to know the identity of:

  • child witnesses or vulnerable persons who are witnesses in the inquiry
  • other witnesses who have demonstrated a credible fear of reprisal or threat from the respondent or the respondent’s agents.

The respondent will be given reasonable opportunity to consider the allegation(s) that have been put to them.

For the most part, it is in the respondent’s best interests to respond.  It is preferred that the respondent agree to participate in an interview with the investigator, however the respondent may choose to provide a written response.  The investigator may prepare a series of guide questions to assist the respondent to address issues of particular interest to the investigation.

After consideration of the respondent’s submissions and the evidence gathered during the preliminary inquiries, the investigator will make ‘draft findings’ (which may also be referred to as ‘preliminary findings’ or ‘proposed findings’)

If one or more of the draft findings are sustained the respondent is given their second right of reply.  The respondent will be provided the evidence on which a sustained finding is based, including the relevant sections of interview transcripts, relevant documentary evidence and the investigator’s analysis.

Any child evidence relied upon to arrive at any propose adverse finding is de-identified.  In accordance with the Office of Safeguarding Administrative Inquiries Procedure, should there be any proposed sustained findings and a respondents second right of reply is triggered, the respondent is provided adequate information to provide an informed response to any adverse finding. This does not equate to the entire investigation record. 

The NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian Fact Sheet 8 Making a finding of reportable conduct states “procedural fairness only requires that the employee be given sufficient particulars to be able to respond to the allegations against them and reasons for any adverse findings – this does not require provision of the entire or un-redacted entity report. In this regard, the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children is the paramount consideration.”

The respondent is afforded all reasonable opportunity to review the evidence and reply to (refute) the draft finding.

The respondent can choose not to respond to the allegations, however the Diocese will proceed to make findings irrespective of a respondent’s decision not to reply to the allegation.  The Office of Safeguarding will make findings on the balance of probabilities based on the available evidence.

‘Findings of fact’, outcomes, appeals and reporting to statutory authorities

Findings are a decision based on fact, whether there is sufficiently compelling inculpatory evidence to determine, ‘on balance of probabilities’ that a complaint has merit or is ‘sustained’.  Alternatively, the finding is that the complaint does not have merit or is ‘not sustained’.

With the respondent’s second right of reply received, or the respondent having forfeited their right to do so, a more senior member of the Office of Safeguarding reviews all the evidence and makes the administrative inquiry’s ‘findings of fact’ (which are also called ‘definitive findings’ or ‘second findings’).  If there is one or more sustained finding, the appropriate diocesan leadership will, in consultation with People and Culture (if the respondent is an employee or volunteer) and the Office of Safeguarding, determine the appropriate outcomes from the administrative inquiry.

Outcomes are those consequences or actions that stem from the findings and reflect the seriousness of the allegations and address any unresolved risks.  Outcomes tend to fall within two classes:

  • the future roles and responsibilities of the respondent as a diocesan worker
  • issues related to the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s current operational or systemic practices and structures.

Outcomes will:

  • reflect the moral and cultural ethos of the Catholic Church and Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
  • be commensurate with the seriousness of the sustained allegations
  • reflect the “industry standards” and community expectations for reasonableness and proportionality
  • be in accordance with employment and industrial law if the respondent is an employee.

For more information on the making of findings, outcomes, appeals and reporting to statutory authorities:

The Office of Safeguarding keeps the administrative inquiry’s records secure and separate from a diocesan workers’ ‘personnel records’ or a cleric’s file.  In certain circumstances, the respondent is able to request access to their inquiry records, please refer to the last section on this web page Accessing Inquiry Records for details.


The respondent has a right of appeal.  The respondent needs to have reasonable grounds, which may include:

  • an identified failure to ensure procedural fairness or adequately address conflicts of interest
  • errors in investigative procedures
  • evidence that was previously unavailable and which may affect the findings made.


Any appeal against a sustained finding should be made in writing to the Director of Safeguarding.  The appeal should provide all the relevant information / evidence / argument on which the respondent is relying to challenge the finding.  The respondent can lodge an appeal on this website, using the Office of Safeguarding Feedback Form

Or, alternatively
P:  02 4979 1390


The NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) oversights the Office of Safeguarding and its inquiry into a reportable allegation.  The Office of Safeguarding must report the progress of an inquiry and submit the finalised inquiry record for review.  For more information on the OCG’s oversight of the reportable conduct, go to the OCG Reportable Conduct Scheme web page.

The OCG also administers and oversights the NSW Working with Children Check (WWCC) scheme.  Where an allegation of sexual assault, sexual misconduct or serious physical assault has been sustained, the OCG will undertake a risk assessment of the respondent’s WWCC.  For more information, go to the OCG Risk Assessment web page.

Right of Complaint to the Office of the Children’s Guardian

If you are dissatisfied with the response of the Office of Safeguarding about a reportable conduct inquiry, you can make a complaint to the OCG.

The OCG asks you to give the Office of Safeguarding and the Diocese an opportunity to address your complaint first, unless there is a good reason.  For more information, go to the OCG Complaints web page.

Accessing Inquiry Records

If the respondent is the subject of one or more sustained definitive finding, that the respondent engaged in:

  • a sexual offence committed against, with or in the presence of a child,
  • sexual misconduct committed against, with or in the presence of a child, including grooming of a child,
  • any serious physical assault of a child

– then the respondent may apply for access to the inquiry records under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act).

The respondent’s access to the inquiry records is restricted by certain public interest imperatives, including:

  • the identities of child witnesses and those of vulnerable persons, will be protected, other than the victim’s identity which must be provided to meet the obligations of procedural fairness
  • the identities of diocesan workers who have a ‘credible fear’ of the respondent learning their identity
  • competing rights of privacy and other public interest arguments.

For more information, go to the NSW Information and Privacy Commission web page GIPA Information Access Resources for Citizens.