Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Apology anniversary a solemn reminder

Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer has reminded Church members of our commitment to be a safe place for all, on the anniversary of the national apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

“The Uniting Church has expressed its deep regret for the harm that was perpetrated on children who were abused in the care of our Church,” said Dr Palmer.

“We recognise the terrible breach of trust and the damage done to individuals, communities and relationships. This is part of our story that we will continue to acknowledge so that we never forget, and never become complacent, about the care and safety of all vulnerable people in our Church and wider community.

“We are deeply committed to living the Gospel of Christ through being a Church that is a place of safety for all people. We are living this out daily, by the commitment of resources to child safety in our Synods, congregations, schools and agencies, by our participation in the National Redress Scheme, and by our establishment of our National Safe Church Unit. The safety of children continues to be at the forefront of our Church’s work with children and families.

“For too long, these abusive acts against children took place in the dark with survivors being dismissed or silenced,” said Dr Palmer.

“There is no acceptable level of abuse within the Uniting Church. Zero cases is the only acceptable level. All of us have responsibility to create communities where children are safe and are able to flourish, free from abuse. We need to remind ourselves of this and stay vigilant in our oversight and due diligence.”

Dr Palmer encouraged Uniting Church congregations to make use of a Liturgy of Acknowledgement and Lament developed for the anniversary.

In a letter to all congregations and faith communities the President acknowledged and lamented the role of the Uniting Church in causing harm to children.

“Whenever we speak on child sexual abuse, I know that survivors are listening.”

“For anyone today who was abused in Uniting Church care or in our predecessor churches, I am deeply sorry that we didn’t protect and care for you in accordance with our Christian values.”

National Director of the Uniting Church’s National Safe Church Unit Rev. John Cox said one of the most important things for congregations and faith communities to do was to enable children and families to participate in decision-making.

“Listening to children in our care and instilling the confidence in them to speak out about their experience of the world supports a robust culture of child safety.”

“The more children are empowered to participate in decisions affecting them, the safer they will be from predatory behaviours,” said Rev. Cox.

All six Uniting Church Synods and the Assembly were declared as participants in the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme (NRS) in March 2019.

The NRS provides acknowledgement and support to people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse through access to counselling, a redress payment and a direct personal response from an institution, for example an apology.

Around 3500 Uniting Church entities are participating in the NRS through UCA Redress Ltd, the national vehicle created to facilitate the Uniting Church’s participation in the Scheme.

All congregations and many agencies and schools associated with the Uniting Church are covered by UCA Redress Ltd.

As of August 2019, the NRS had received over 4,800 applications across all institutions participating in the Scheme across Australia.

National Director of UCA Redress Ltd Sarah Lim says that of the applications relating to the Uniting Church, “Most relate to historical out-of-home care, but include some schools and congregations.”

“Most also relate to allegations of abuse that occurred in the 1960s to 1980s, but some allege abuse as far back as the 1940s through to the current decade.”

Ms Lim said potential applicants should contact the NRS directly as a first step.

“The National Redress Scheme website www.nationalredress.gov.au or the Scheme’s toll-free contact number 1800 737 377 are the first point of call for anyone seeking redress,” said Ms Lim.

More information is available on the UCA Redress website.

Ms Lim said that UCA Redress Ltd saw redress as a justice issue.

“We recognise redress not only as a means to addressing past wrongs, but as taking us forward as a community to a place of reconciliation with those who have suffered, where relationships are rebuilt and trust is restored in our institutions, in our leaders and in our Church.”

“Our commitment is to hear and keep the stories, to apologise and make change,” said Ms Lim.