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Be prepared for changes: LCA Royal Commission team

The Lutheran Church of Australia has so far received little attention from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. But while schools, congregations and members can be feeling somewhat relieved about that, they should not be complacent, says the LCA’s Royal Commission working group. Changes are on the way.

The LCA’s working group, which was established in 2013, engages with the Royal Commission on behalf of the church, monitors developments and their likely impact, and provides input into the commission’s deliberations as it begins to form recommendations to government. So far the LCA team has produced six submissions to the commission for its consideration. (You can read them at www.lca.org.au/royal-commission)

Its most recent paper addresses the issue of redress and civil litigation; that is, how will churches and other institutions make amends for their part in sexual abuse against children in their care? What will be required of them under law?

‘The Lutheran Church of Australia abhors abuse of any child’, the working group’s submission states. ‘[We believe] that any person who has been abused … should have equal access and equal opportunity in seeking redress.’

But the group’s paper also points out that the perpetrators should not be absolved from responsibility, ‘either financially or in any other way’, simply because they were employed or engaged by an institution. Further, the LCA’s submission argues that a ‘clear and fair process’ would not disadvantage small organisations, even to the point of them collapsing under the burden of financial redress to victims of sexual abuse.

Regardless of the specific legislation that will be enacted as a result of the Royal Commission’s work, ‘members of the church should be prepared for changes’, warns Peter Schirmer, Executive Officer of the Church. ‘The findings of the commission have shocked all the churches and the general public. There is no escaping the fact that abuse has happened in churches on a horrific scale.’

While the LCA has not been in the Royal Commission's spotlight, there have been instances of abuse within Lutheran institutions which have led to payments being made to victims.

‘The commission’s task is to make recommendations for the protection of children from sexual abuse’, Mr Schirmer says. ‘All of us in institutions that care for children will be affected—and if that helps to protect children, that is a good thing.’

The LCA has demonstrated it is serious about the protection of children by insisting that all people in the church working with children complete ChildSafe training and, as appropriate, have a police check or Working with Children check, or (in Queensland) hold a ‘blue card’. If the commission recommends ways to improve systems and processes, the LCA will implement them, Mr Schirmer says. In the meantime, the LCA encourages all agencies and individuals to ensure they are providing a safe environment for children in their care by implementing the church’s child-protection-related policies and procedures.  

The LCA’s Royal Commission team is conscious also of the related issue of domestic (or family) violence, which is the focus of a Victorian Royal Commission and much discussion among government groups and the media. The conversation is rapidly gaining momentum across the nation.

‘Our Royal Commission working group is sticking to its brief to focus on issues relating to sexual abuse against children within institutions, such as the church’, Mr Schirmer says. ‘But the alarming statistics about abuse—against children and adults—within families, are never far from our minds. We hope that our church can start to make a meaningful contribution in this area also.

‘People should be safe, and feel safe, not only at our churches and schools but also within the families that make up the congregations and communities of our church. Family violence is a disturbing problem that we, together with the rest of the Australian community, need to be addressing urgently.

‘As Christians, who are called to care for others, we need to be not only involved in this conversation but taking a leading role.’

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