Priests from across Otago and Southland gathered in Dunedin yesterday as part of a push to upskill clergy in response to a sexual abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church.

About 30 priests from across the Dunedin Diocese – which spans the lower third of the South Island – attended an all-day seminar at the Holy Cross Centre in Mosgiel.

Speakers included Virginia Noonan, director of the Catholic Church in New Zealand’s National Office of Professional Standards, which handles sexual abuse complaints involving clergy.

Published in Otago Daily Times

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust chairman Phillip Chapman also spoke.

Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley said it was a chance for priests to receive a refresher on safeguarding protocols designed to protect children and vulnerable adults.

Priests were also briefed on a new, streamlined, code of conduct which spelled out behavioural expectations “and the consequences if it’s not done”, which included dismissal, he said.

The code included a requirement for all allegations to be taken “seriously” and reported in line with church protocols.

The one-page document covered all volunteers and employees within the Catholic Church, he said.

Police vetting and psychological tests already required of those wanting to enter a seminary were also being extended to other parts of the church, he said.

Bishop Dooley said priests across the diocese were “feeling the crisis” facing the church, as the extent of historic sexual abuse by clergy was revealed within the Dunedin diocese, in other parts of New Zealand and internationally.

Media publicity helped encourage victims to come forward, but there was still room for priests within the diocese to upskill in “what they do practically”, he said.

The session in Dunedin also reflected developments in the Vatican, where Pope Francis has just completed a month-long Synod on Youth, which included discussion of the church’s child abuse scandal.

By Chris Morris
Published in Otago Daily Times
1 November 2018