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Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process

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The purpose of Towards Healing

Towards Healing: principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against personnel of the Catholic Church in Australia (Towards Healing) was the first publicly announced national scheme for attempting to support people affected by child sexual abuse.

The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is a signatory to the Towards Healing protocol and supports people who choose to seek restitution through the NSW Professional Standards Office.

Towards Healing has undergone a number of reviews and revisions, the latest iteration being a 2016 online publication.

Towards Healing attempts to address three key purposes.

Towards Healing attempts to assist the victim find healing, and where possible, to experience some measure of reconciliation with the church. The primary purpose is pastoral. Church authorities are not in an adversarial relationship with complainants nor should they adopt a defensive tone in their response. Towards Healing is an expression of the church’s teaching on justice and compassion. It is not merely a means for the resolution of disputes or an alternative to litigation.

Towards Healing is also concerned with the discipline of offenders. It provides a means for the investigation of complaints, and these may well lead to some form of disciplinary action. Any sanctions imposed on an offender should be consistent with the relevant laws and processes governing that person’s position.

Towards Healing deals with the issue of prevention. There are provisions relating to information sharing between dioceses and religious orders where a person with a history of offending moves to another ministry. There are also undertakings to provide training to those in ministry with children and youth, and to screen potential employees and volunteers in terms of their suitability to work with children and young people.

Scope of Towards Healing

For an application for redress to be approved, there needs to be a “reasonable likelihood” that:

  • the applicant was sexually abused
    • when they were a child
    • before 1 July 2018
    • the abuse was of a kind assessed as having a monetary value under the National Redress Scheme Assessment Framework
  • the abuse relates to one or more institutions that are signatories to/participants of the National Redress Scheme
  • the applicant is an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

The National Redress Scheme will consider all relevant information available, including:

  • the information contained in the application form
  • any documentation an applicant provides in support of their application, for example, written testimony to past schemes or inquiries, including the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
  • the information relevant participating institution/s provide in response to a Request for Information from the national redress scheme, including any supporting documentation
  • any other information available including information held by the National Redress Scheme (for example, where the scheme has built up a picture of relevant information about the same institution during the relevant period, or the same abuser).Towards Healing attempts to address abuse committed by Catholic Church personnel (clerics, religious and laity). Towards Healing deals with the following forms of abuse:
    • sexual assault, sexual harassment or any other conduct of a sexual nature that is inconsistent with the integrity of the relationship between church personnel and those in pastoral care
    • intentional acts by a person with responsibility for a child or young person causing significant physical injury, or other behaviour that causes serious physical pain or mental anguish without any legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time when the behaviour occurred.
  • Betrayal of trust:
    Towards Healing deals with particular kinds of breaches of trust in pastoral relationships. It is a gross betrayal of trust for people in positions of pastoral responsibility to use that relationship for sexual exploitation.

    Abuse of power:
    The abuse of power is most obvious when an adult sexually exploits or maltreats a child. Children cannot give a meaningful consent to sexual relations, and they are vulnerable to abuse by those entrusted with their care.

    Towards Healing is concerned with both child sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of adults in the context of a pastoral relationship. Adult parishioners may in law have given a valid consent to sexual activity with a cleric, religious or other church personnel in pastoral relationships.  However, such relationships should never be sexualised. It is the professional responsibility of clergy and religious and others in “helping professions” to guard the boundary against sexual contact.

    Differentiating abuse from historically accepted conduct:
    Towards Healing does not deal only with sexual abuse. It also deals with complaints of physical or emotional abuse. Most of the complaints about physical and emotional abuse have arisen from institutional settings in which children were cared for or educated many years ago. Many of the practices and standards of care that were deemed acceptable or adequate a generation ago would not be so regarded today. Harsh discipline and meagre resources compounded the problems in institutional care. Deciding whether conduct was abusive requires an understanding of what were acceptable child-rearing practices at the time.

    The definition of abuse in Towards Healing seeks to differentiate child-rearing practices acceptable at the time, from cruel behaviour. The definition of physical and emotional abuse states a person with responsibility for a child or young person must have committed the acts, and either:

    ·         intentionally caused significant physical injury

    ·         caused serious physical pain or mental anguish without any legitimate disciplinary purpose as judged by the standards of the time when the behaviour occurred.

Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards

On 31 March 2019 the National Committee for Professional Standards ceded its responsibilities to the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards (ACCPS).

The ACCPS’s purpose is to reduce the opportunity for child and adult abuse within the Catholic Church by:

  • providing national leadership to develop and promote strategies that provide an effective and efficient complaints management framework
  • applying the highest professional standards to keep everyone safe and ensure the response to reports of abuse is applied consistently across the Catholic Church in Australia
  • providing strategic direction, leadership and operational planning of current and future systemic trends related to professional standards to the Permanent Committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and other senior leaders within the Catholic Church
  • applying a trauma-informed approach when dealing with those reporting abuse to ensure pastoral care is provided consistently across the Catholic Church in Australia
  • working in partnership with internal and external agencies to reduce the risk of harm and respond appropriately in safeguarding and investigating allegations for those who are at risk of harm and those who have been harmed, subject to investigative outcomes of outside agencies.

ACCPS and its executive director Dianne Dawson work closely with the state and territory professional standards offices.

Contact the NSW Professional Standards Office and ACCPS

If you are a victim or survivor of child sexual abuse committed by a person associated with the Diocese and you want to pursue a complaint through Towards Healing, you should contact the NSW Professional Standards Office and its Director, Jacqueline Highfields:

P:   02 9307 8481 during normal office hours

Surface mail:        

Jacqueline Highfields, Director
NSW Professional Standards Office
Level 12, Polding Centre
133 Liverpool Street,
Sydney, NSW, 2000

The Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards can be contacted on:

P:   02 6234 0904 during normal office hours

Surface mail:      

Dianne Dawson, Director
Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards
GPO Box 368, Canberra
ACT 2601, Australia

Web address: