The Catholic Church's "Melbourne Response" to sex-abuse complaints

The Catholic Church in Australia has established a Professional Standards Office (also known as "Towards Healing") to handle (or mis-handle) complaints from the church's sex-abuse victims. This system operates throughout Australia (including country areas in Victoria), but it does not cover priests in Melbourne or its suburbs.

The Melbourne Catholic diocese (which includes Geelong) has procedures which differ from the rest of Victoria and Australia. When Australia's bishops were slowly planning the national Towards Healing system throughout 1996, the Melbourne diocesan authorities were nervous about Melbourne church scandals that were about to become public. Accordingly, the Melbourne diocese urgently introduced its own complaints-resolution system in mid-1996, several months ahead of the remainder of the Australian church.

The Melbourne diocese has hired a lawyer to act part-time in receiving complaints about priests and other personnel who come directly under the control of the Melbourne diocese. Generally this means diocesan priests (that is, priests ministering in parishes) — not religious-order priests (in monasteries etc). Complaints about religious-order priests — or complaints about religious brothers — in Melbourne may need to go to the Victorian PSO.

Thus, the Melbourne diocese does not participate in the Victorian Professional Standards Office. The Victorian PSO, which is currently located in Mildura, is confined to religious orders and Victoria's three country dioceses.

However, victims should first consider having a chat with the Victoria Police Sex Crimes Squad, which established a special team of detectives (known as "Task Force Sano") in 2013 to handle complaints about sex-offences in religious and similar institutions. Broken Rites can supply the contact details of Task Force Sanyo.

If these detectives cannot help, then a victim could consider consulting a solicitor with a view to serving a letter of complaint upon the church authorities. But this needs to be a solicitor who has had experience in successfully tackling the Catholic Church (and most solicitors lack this experience).

The church's own in-house complaints system should be used with caution and only as a last resort. The church's in-house system can be evasive.

Article posted 3 February 2013.