Ballarat Diocese prepares its records ahead of sex abuse inquiry

BALLARAT’S Catholic Bishop Paul Bird has welcomed tomorrow’s sitting of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into institutional child sexual abuse and said he was committed to improved safety standards. 

Bishop Bird said priests, religious leaders and parishioners in the Ballarat Diocese had welcomed the inquiry and a forthcoming national royal commission as a chance for healing for the church and victims of abuse. 

He said the church had changed its practices in dealing with “the tragedy of child sexual abuse”. 

“It has been welcomed by many who want an independent look at what has happened, and as an exercise which will bring to light some important lessons,” he said. 

“I believe the Catholic Church has for last 20 years or so put in place good and respectful procedures to deal with these kinds of issues, and while considering safety for children in our care, the inquiry can look at this history and draw good lessons.” 

Ordained as Ballarat’s bishop in October, Bishop Bird said no priest or member of a religious order who had been found guilty of child abuse or was considered a risk to children was currently involved in ministry in the diocese. 

The comments come after Australia’s bishops gathered in Sydney, forming a council of Catholics to lead the church through the royal commission process, expected to take years. 

Members of the council will be selected in coming months, with the body to consist of seven lay Catholics from the community, two bishops and one Catholic nun or brother. 

“The bishops are of course very concerned about the tragedy of child abuse in the church and more broadly in the community, and this came as a way for us to respond directly to the commission on behalf of all Australian Catholics,” he said. 

Bishop Bird said the Diocese of Ballarat was in the process of preparing records which may be called for by the Victorian inquiry or the royal commission and he said Catholic leaders would address both inquiries when invited. 

Tomorrow’s hearing at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is expected to hear from family members of victims of abuse, with a further sitting expected in Ballarat in February.  

thomas.mcilroy@thecourier.com.au

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