6 February 2023

Child safety measures to ‘expand’ as splinter diocese grows: GAFCON

Former Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies is the newly appointed bishop of the Diocese of the Southern Cross. Image: Russell Powell.

Kirralee Nicolle

13 September 2022

It remains unclear what plans exist for institutional child safety practices at a newly formed breakaway group from the Anglican church, Diocese of the Southern Cross.

The Diocese of the Southern Cross website does not currently contain any reference to child safety and leaders have declined to comment publicly on details of child safe plans and practices within the organisation.

A diocese spokesperson said the diocese was complying with all relevant legislation and would continue to do so.

They said the Diocese of the Southern Cross took child protection and professional standards very seriously and that any assertion to the contrary was wrong.

GAFCON executive officer and Diocese of the Southern Cross spokesperson Michael Kellahan said that the DSC had measures in place for safe ministry and professional standards which would expand as the diocese grew. He declined to comment on any specific measures.

Read more: GAFCON announces first bishop for new diocese, says strategy is primarily to encourage unity

Mr Kellahan said that the leaders chosen for the Diocese of the Southern Cross were experienced in issues of safety.

“At present it has only one congregation. It is overseen by an Anglican bishop well versed in safe ministry practices and under whose administration many of these issues were tackled,” Mr Kellahan said on 23 August.

GAFCON Australia directors announced the formation of the Diocese of the Southern Cross and its first bishop the Right Reverend Glenn Davies, former Archbishop of Sydney on 15 August. It also announced that the first church – Southern Cross Anglican Beenleigh and Logan – had met in Queensland under the leadership of former Anglican Church of Australia priest Reverend Peter Palmer. Mr Kellahan confirmed on 13 September that another Queensland DSC congregation had been announced. Neither church was affiliated with the Anglican Church of Australia.

GAFCON Australia, or the Global Anglican Future Conference, is an organisation which seeks to “provide recognition, fellowship and assistance to those who have disaffiliated from their diocese because of the unorthodox actions of others”, according to its website.

Any churches operational in Queensland are legally required to operate under Queensland Blue Card legislation. A Department of Justice and Attorney-General spokesperson said that organisations providing regulated child-related services were required to meet certain obligations under the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000.

These include:

– Not starting a person in child-regulated work without a valid card;

– Maintaining a register of the people engaged in the organisation, including those who rely on an exemption to work with children;

– Developing and implementing a child and youth risk management strategy to help create a safe and supportive environment for children, and;

– Informing Blue Card Services when there is a change in the organisation’s information.

Read more: ‘Orthodox … Biblical Anglicanism’, or an ‘outright lie’? GAFCON divides

The department spokesperson said that Blue Cards were not required prior to a congregation first meeting unless the service or activity was directed mainly towards children, but priests, chaplains or ministers whose role included providing religious instruction or conducting activities directed mainly towards children required a Blue Card.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found many instances of child sexual abuse within Australian churches, including the Anglican Church of Australia.

Among the report findings was that power and authority exercised by people in religious ministry gave them access to children and created opportunities for abuse. The findings also stated that many leaders of religious institutions demonstrated a preoccupation with protecting the institution’s “good name” and reputation. The final report from the Royal Commission said that even institutions or frameworks that did not directly engage with children or child-related issues also had a role in creating safety for children.

In Southern Queensland the Anglican Church of Australia had established a Policy for the Protection of Children in Ministry Units.

Read more: Church ‘can find a way to stay together’: Primate

This policy included a commitment to ensuring that church workers who worked with children were trustworthy and professional in everything they did, an expectation that workers were familiar with the policy, requirements that church workers had Blue Cards and guidelines around reporting abuse or suspected abuse.

The Diocese of the Southern Cross was listed as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission on 30 September 2021. A spokesperson for the ACNC said that safeguarding was part of a charity’s primary duty of care.

“Safeguarding is protecting the welfare and human rights of people that are connected with a charity or its work – particularly people that may be at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation, including children and older people,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also said the ACNC’s Governance Standards required charities to comply with Australian law and set duties for a charity’s leaders, which included the requirement to act with care and diligence and in the best interests of the charity.

Chair of GAFCON Australia Bishop Richard Condie, Bishop Glenn Davies and Reverend Peter Palmer were approached for comment.

The article was updated on 13 September to include that another congregation had been announced as part of the Diocese of the Southern Cross.

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