In articles titled “Nothing lost, everything gained” (Catholic Voice, 29/06/2020) and “Nothing lost, everything gained: why moving on from CPSL is important” (Catholic Weekly, 29/06/2020), Fr Tony Percy, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, dismissed the concerns of some eminent Catholics on the merging of CPSL into a new entity as “complete nonsense”.

As chairman of the Board of Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL) I share many of the concerns that have been expressed about the future entity and believe such concerns should be addressed, not dismissed.

CPSL was established just four years ago as a response to the horrendous findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. CPSL was to provide a new way of assuring the people of God, survivors of abuse and civil society that children and vulnerable people would be safe when dealing with the Catholic Church. Since beginning operations, CPSL has facilitated the development of nationally consistent safeguarding standards which all Catholic Church entities across Australia are expected to adhere (the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards). At the same time, CPSL has set up a system to audit the compliance of these entities and report its findings to the public. Audit reports published by CPSL have been reported on by Catholic and mainstream media, with all audit reports, including detailed findings, available on our website (www.cpsltd.org.au).

Church leaders have been trained on the requirements of the standards and the workings of the audit, and those entities which have been audited have reported that their entity has derived greater understanding of how to ensure safety (see CPSL website for details of our work).

The Bishops Conference has commissioned a reference group to consider how some of the national professional standards and safeguarding entities currently in operation can come together in the interests of efficiency. CPSL supports a combination of these entities, provided the new entity retains the independence and transparency accorded to CPSL and promised in response to the Royal Commission. This was achieved through a corporate structure and the constitution of CPSL. Chief among those constitutional provisions is the guarantee that directors retain absolute discretion in relation to the conduct of audits and the publication of audit results. The reference group has been asked whether this structure should be retained. So Catholics have reason to be concerned.

Fr Percy also tells Catholics that we can measure the commitment of the Church to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults by what is spent by church authorities - $36 million. A very small amount of this (approximately $2M) is expected to be spent on the proposed national agency. The bulk of this $36M spend has not come under scrutiny. (The cost to the Church of CPSL is currently $2M in direct contribution. In addition, CPSL charges an audit fee to the authority being audited. It also generates some income through training fees.)

Fr Percy’s model is one where Church entities are oversighted by a national entity which may not have functional independence. It relies on civil authorities to train Church entities on how to safeguard children and vulnerable people. In this model transparency is low. Oversight is no substitute for published audits. Consistency of practice is not guaranteed.

Fr Percy implies CPSL can never be independent as it is owned and funded by the Church. The Government’s auditors are similarly owned and funded by Government but their independence is not questioned. The key to independence is the legal powers given to a body – not its ownership. Nor, for the record, has it ever been suggested that a CPSL audit was in any way compromised by the company’s ownership.

 

The Hon Geoff Giudice AO

Board Chair

On behalf of the Board of CPSL