21 May 2022
New Anglican legislation aims to better protect children in churches by reflecting recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
General synod passed several bills relating to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, which put out its final report in December 2017, as well as motions about safe ministry practices.
Synod passed the Safe Ministry Legislation Amendments Canon 2022, amending prior canons passed in 2017, 2001, 2001 and 1962. This was to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, to update legislation to better reflect developments in technology, and to make technical amendments.
According to its explanatory memorandum, the bill as it was put to synod addressed recommendations of the Royal Commission including: management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, accountability of religious leaders, complaint handling policies, and discipline.
The memorandum also stated that the bill addressed recent developments in the area of online safety, highlighting issues that might arise in the context for safe ministry, and address issues relating to social media and cyber abuse.
Sydney barrister Garth Blake spoke in favour of the bill, saying it aimed to improve child safety in the national church. The bill was moved by Audrey Mills and seconded by Dianne Shay.
Synod also passed the Episcopal Standards (Child Protection) Canon 2022, which provided to the mandatory suspension of a bishop against whom a plausible complaint involving a sexual offence relating to a child was made.
This legislation superseded 2017 legislation. The bill was moved by Mr Blake and seconded by Audrey Mills.
Synod also passed the Constitution Amendment (Mandatory Suspension) Canon 2022, another part of implementing the same Royal Commission Recommendation – relating to the mandatory suspension of persons in ministry subject to a plausible complaint of child sexual abuse.
This bill began the process of amending the constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia to implement this recommendation.
Its main provision was that where a charge involving a sexual offence relating to a child has been promoted against a bishop of a diocese, or a bishop assistant to the primate, that bishop should be suspended until the charge has been determined. It was moved by Mr Blake and seconded by Mrs Mills.
The synod also passed a Constitution Amendment (Mandatory Deposition) Canon. This allowed for an amendment to the constitution to provide that where a diocesan tribunal or provincial tribunal hearing a charge was satisfied that a member of the clergy had been convicted of a sexual offence relating to a child, while a member of the clergy, the tribunal must recommend a sentence of deposition from orders. It provided the same for a Special Tribunal hearing a charge against a bishop. Mr Blake moved the Bill, which was seconded by Mrs Mills.
General Synod also passed a motion requesting that it establish a group to review compliance, audit and reporting obligations of the diocese under the Safe Ministry to Children Canon 2017, in light of the child safety requirements imposed on diocese by laws of states and territories.
It also requested the establishment of a Safe Ministry Commission to measure and review the Church’s progress towards being a child safe institution, in light of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
Synod also passed motions endorsing a guide to providing pastoral support to people affected by sexual abuse, and commended the National Council of Churches in Australia for organising the Safe Churches Conference, and welcomed guidelines to enhance the safety of all persons – especially children, young people and vulnerable adults – within the provinces of the Anglican Communion.