Bishops to release Catholic Church response to royal commission

Archbishop Mark Coleridge
Archbishop Mark Coleridge

AUSTRALIA’S Catholic bishops will release the Catholic Church response to the child abuse royal commission “as soon as possible” after an extraordinary meeting in Melbourne next week.

Bishops will meet on August 2 and 3 after months of criticism from Catholic reform groups and some politicians about the failure to release a church-commissioned Truth Justice and Healing Council report handed to bishops in March.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference called the extraordinary meeting after Catholic Religious Australia, representing 150 Catholic orders including nuns and brothers, said it “favoured” the TJHC report’s release. The two church groups commissioned the TJHC report which is understood to contain recommendations that could challenge some Australian bishops.

The Truth Justice and Healing Council, headed by lay Catholic Francis Sullivan, was established in early 2013 to represent the church during the royal commission. It was disbanded in March after presenting its final report to the bishops. 

In a statement today ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the extraordinary meeting was called because “We decided we couldn’t wait until our next scheduled plenary meeting in late November to finalise our response” to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse final report and recommendations released in December, 2017. 

The ACBC has committed to releasing both the bishops’ response to the royal commission and the four-volume, 1000 page TJHC report. While the bishops’ response should be released “as soon as possible” after next week’s meeting, the ACBC is yet to confirm when it will release the TJHC report.

A spokesperson said the TJHC report’s release will be discussed by bishops and Catholic Religious Australia next week.

Archbishop Coleridge said Australia’s bishops had started discussions with the Vatican “about issues that concern the discipline and doctrine of the universal church”, after the royal commission exposed systemic issues that leave children at risk of abuse.

Royal commission recommendations included that celibacy become voluntary for priests, that the Vatican make significant reforms to church law relating to child abuse, and a review of the governance and structure of the Australian church.

 Archbishop Coleridge said while bishops met in May for one of their two regular annual meetings and discussed the church’s response to the royal commission, they “hadn’t received enough advice” at that stage.

“Additional advice, including from the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, the Implementation Advisory Group, Catholic Professional Standards Limited, local safeguarding experts and canon lawyers has now been received and is informing the bishops’ response,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

The bishops will also receive an update next week on the Catholic Church’s participation in the National Redress Scheme and on Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools.