Catholic Church's abuse victim process criticised

THE Law Council has hit out at the Catholic Church's Towards Healing abuse victim process, arguing it lacks accountability and transparency and is open to potential conflicts of interest.

Details of the legal concerns were revealed in submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The commission will hold a fortnight of hearings later this year into the church's victim repatriation and complaints process, Towards Healing.

One of the council's chief concerns was the need for an external independent statutory body to oversee reviews of Towards Healing decisions.

The submission backs victims' claims in recent years that a lack of independent scrutiny may mean the church was not adequately dealing with abuse allegations.

Under the process, the Law Council warns, the integrity of Australia's justice system could be "circumvented or compromised" through internal "private and partial processes".

The submission further challenged the impartiality of the church's process, writing the Towards Healing guidelines only advised that sexual behaviour with a child was criminal behaviour.

More must be done, the submission argued, to ensure any internal process acknowledged the inherent crimes of those who aid, abet, or ignore evidence of such abuse occurring.

At pains not to cast "impunity" on members of the Towards Healing governance, the council still argued the internal process would affect perceptions of justice being done, and potentially whether justice was done at all.

"It is concerned by the potential for conflicts of interest, and the potential effects on independent decision-making or review processes," the council wrote.

"On this basis, the Law Council considers that confidence in the process could be strengthened by an external statutory oversight body."

The Towards Healing program will be the subject of commission hearings in December this year.



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