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Obligations for diocesan workers to support an investigation

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Diocesan workers have an obligation to promote the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children. Part of this obligation is to provide all reasonable co-operation and support to investigations conducted within the Diocese, and external statutory investigations including NSW Police Force or the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS).

The Office of Safeguarding conducts investigations into alleged misconduct and abuse

The Diocese takes any allegation of misconduct or abusive conduct towards a child as unacceptable.

If the Diocese receives an allegation that a diocesan worker has acted inappropriately towards a child, it will conduct an inquiry to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the allegation and to assess the seriousness of the conduct.

The Diocese will conduct inquiries at a level commensurate with the seriousness of the alleged conduct.

Local leadership may address allegations of relatively minor misconduct. For example, if there is a minor allegation made against a teacher in a diocesan school, the school’s principal or assistant principal may undertake an inquiry. Office of Safeguarding staff will oversee and support the local leadership conducting the inquiry. For more serious allegations, an Office of Safeguarding investigator is appointed to conduct the investigation. 

The following information relates to Office of Safeguarding investigations.

Obligation to protect the integrity of an investigation

If a diocesan worker becomes aware that an investigation is being conducted, they are obliged to treat the information as confidential and not discuss the existence or substance of the investigation with colleagues.

Diocesan workers are required to maintain a neutral or non-judgmental position as to the allegations being investigated and the people involved. It is unacceptable to publicly undermine or refute the integrity of the investigative process.

Diocesan workers are responsible for raising any concerns they have for the integrity of an investigation in a timely manner. Employees should advise their managers. Parishioners should talk to the parish leadership.

If the diocesan worker believes their manager or local leadership is compromised, they should contact the Office of Safeguarding:

P:  02 4979 1390
E:  child.protection@mn.catholic.org.au

Diocesan workers will not knowingly contaminate evidence (for example, discuss the investigation with other witnesses during the investigation) or collude with other witnesses to influence the nature of evidence the investigation gathers. Any alleged collusion is considered a serious allegation and an  Office of Safeguarding investigator will inquire.

If the diocesan worker is aware they may have an actual or perceived conflict of interest in relation to an investigation, they must, as a matter of priority, advise their local leaders or the Office of Safeguarding. A diocesan worker failing to report a known conflict of interest is deemed a serious breach of professional standards.

Obligation to support an investigation

Diocesan workers are obliged to participate in the investigative process to support diocesan investigations in accordance with directions from local leadership and the Office of Safeguarding.

Except in special circumstances, diocesan workers are obliged to provide any evidence they have or know about (forensic, written or oral) to the investigator.  The diocesan worker is obliged to be a truthful witness who volunteers all information relevant to the investigation. Failure to do so is considered a serious breach of professional standards, which may result in disciplinary action being taken.

Once an investigator has interviewed a witness and their evidence has been finalised, the witness’s role in the investigation is complete. A diocesan worker who is a witness in an investigation will be advised when the investigation is complete, but they will not be given information in relation to findings or outcomes.

“Findings” is a term that describes whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a particular allegation occurred — a “sustained” finding. If there is insufficient evidence, it is a “not sustained” finding.

“Outcomes” is a term that describes key decisions the appropriate diocesan leadership makes when one or more allegation in an investigation is “sustained”. Outcomes can relate to the diocesan worker who was investigated, and operational or systemic issues.

Diocesan workers have the right not to incriminate themselves in criminal activity.

If the diocesan worker is worried about the potential consequences of giving evidence, the investigator will assess if it constitute a “credible concern” that warrants the worker’s identity being protected, and systemic responses to neutralise the worker’s concerns.

Diocesan investigations respect:

  • the sanctity of the confessional and the privilege of religious confessions
  • client legal privilege.

The OoSG will consider other claims of professional privilege (for example, the counselling relationship) on an individual basis.

Where a diocesan worker is a potential witness in an investigation and identifies a conflict of interest with the respondent (the diocesan worker subject of the investigation), sympathetic consideration will be given to the diocesan worker to address the conflict of interest.

When diocesan workers are aware of an investigation, they have an obligation to be supportive of the alleged victim, the respondent or any other person involved in an investigation (for example, witnesses). Colleagues need to suspend judgment — be understanding, while remaining neutral.  

Diocesan workers are able to check a child they work with or a colleague is OK, or ask them if there is anything that can be done to assist. However, talking about the investigation is inappropriate and the topic needs to be changed.

Obligation for local leaders to support those involved in the investigation

The local leaders of parishes, diocesan agencies and programs involved in the investigation have obligations to ensure the alleged victim, respondent and witnesses receive additional supervision and support during a potentially stressful process.

The local leaders are not responsible for addressing any queries or concerns arising from investigative processes. That is the role of the investigator. It is the local leader’s responsibility to ensure any adverse impact on the relationships between individuals and the Diocese are minimised. They should offer support from a caring presence.

The alleged victim and their parents or carers are entitled to some special consideration. For example, the local leader should arrange a quick “catch-up” meeting at the end of the week to check in with the alleged victim. The local leader should facilitate the alleged victim or other witnesses to attend appointments related to the investigation, including counselling support.

Where the respondent remains in the workplace, special consideration should be afforded them, including provision of time away during the workday to meet with their support person or legal counsel, to prepare material for the investigation, or attend counselling services. Special consideration for the respondent must also balance the needs of the workplace and fairness to the respondent’s colleagues.

Where the respondent has been placed on temporary leave and is no longer in the workplace, it is the responsibility of the local leadership to:

  • maintain regular contact with the respondent, such as making regular “well-being” phone calls
  • formulate strategies for the respondent to remain as integrated as possible with their workplace, while also protecting the integrity of the investigation (for example, the respondent receiving normal workplace communications).