The definitions in this glossary take into account Australian state/territory and federal laws and relevant regulations, canon law, information from the Holy See, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations and the Glossary on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse published by the United Nations in 2017.

The glossary does not have any legal force and is meant only to serve as a reference tool for the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards.

All terms and definitions are to be read in the context of these Standards alone.



Accessible language means information is provided in multiple formats for individuals with different levels of English literacy and proficiency, modes of communication, languages and cognitive abilities.

Allegation means a complaint, still to be verified, claiming or asserting that someone has committed an act of abuse against a child. The term is used interchangeably and in combination with “complaint”.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference means the national episcopal conference of the Catholic bishops of Australia. It is the instrumentality used by the Australian Catholic bishops to act nationally and address issues of national significance.



Bishop means a diocesan bishop and archbishop and the ordinary of an ordinariate in the Latin Church and an eparch in the Eastern Churches.



Canon law means the revised Code of Canon law promulgated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1983 and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches as promulgated in 1990 and any other universal or particular legislation promulgated by the competent ecclesiastical authority.

Canonical Steward means the person(s) or other entity canonically responsible for the Catholic Entity.

Catholic Religious Australia means the public name of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (ACLRI). It is the peak body for leaders of Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life resident in Australia.

Child/ren means individuals under 18 years of age.

Child abuse

There are different legal definitions of child abuse in Australia. Most commonly, the categories of child abuse include sexual, physical, psychological, neglect, ill-treatment, exploitation and exposure to family violence.

The following provides general definitions only. For specific legal definitions related to your State/territory please go to the Australian Institute of Family Services Website

Child abuse, when referenced throughout the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards, includes:

  • physical abuse refers to any non-accidental physically aggressive act towards a child. Physical abuse may be intentional or may be the inadvertent result of physical punishment. Physically abusive behaviours include shoving, hitting, slapping, shaking, throwing, punching, biting, burning and kicking;
  • sexual abuse refers to a person who uses power, force or authority to involve a child or young person in any form of unwanted or illegal sexual activity. This can involve touching or no contact at all. This may take the form of taking sexually explicit photographs or videos of children, forcing children to watch or take part in sexual acts and forcing or coercing children to have sex or engage in sexual acts with other children or adults;
  • neglect refers to a failure by a caregiver to provide the basic requirements for meeting the physical and emotional developmental needs of a child. Physically neglectful behaviours include a failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene or medical attention;
  • psychological abuse refers to inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts and a failure to provide adequate non-physical nurture or emotional availability. Psychologically abusive behaviours include rejecting, ignoring, isolating, terrorising, corrupting, verbal abuse and belittlement;
  • exposure to family violence is generally considered to be a form of psychologically abusive behaviour, where a child is present (hearing or seeing) while a parent or sibling is subjected to physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological maltreatment, or is visually exposed to the damage caused to persons or property by a family member's violent behaviour; and
  • grooming refers to a pattern of behaviour aimed at engaging a child as a precursor to sexual abuse. It includes establishing a ‘special’ friendship/relationship with the child. Grooming can include the conditioning of parents and other adults to think that the relationship with the child is ‘normal’ and positive. The process can take as little as a few days or as long as months or even years.

Child Safeguarding Commitment Statement means a commitment statement describing an entity’s commitment to keep children safe from harm. It forms the entity’s culture with respect to child safeguarding. 

Child safeguarding policies and procedures means any policies or procedures of the entity that address elements of child safety. For example, but not limited to: 

  • recruitment;
  • risk management;
  • complaint handling; and
  • acceptable use (information & communication technology)

Church Authority means:

A. the diocesan bishop (or archbishop, as appropriate) of a diocese or his administrator from time to time.

B. the Australian major superior in respect of religious institutes; or

C. the canonical steward in relation to a particular Catholic entity in respect of other Catholic entities not referred to in (a) or (b) above.

Civic engagement means individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern. Civic engagement includes citizens working together to make a change or difference in the community. The goal of civic engagement is to address public concerns and promote the quality of the community.

Clergy means the body of those ordained in sacred ministry in the Church. They are either deacons, priests or bishops.

Cleric means a member of the clergy.

Clericalist/ism means an attitude toward clergy/religious characterised by an excessive deference and an assumption of their moral superiority. Pope Francis has said of clericalism that it occurs when “clerics feel they are superior, [and when] they are far from the people.” He goes on to say that clericalism can be “fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons”. When fostered by priests it may be demonstrated in an attitude where clerics see themselves as self-sufficient, superior to and separate from accountabilities of the world beyond the Church. When fostered by lay people it may be demonstrated by thinking that their contributions to the life of the Church are second-rate, or that in all things, surely ‘Father knows best’. The features of clericalism are not restricted to the ordained (clergy and religious) nor to the Church alone. Abuse of an individual’s function, role or power could be considered clericalist and could be exemplified through other attitudes such as not allowing criticism, being didactic rather than dialogical and being controlling rather than caring. It exists in hierarchical institutions such as academia, legal and medical establishments, the police and military.

Complainant means any person who makes a complaint that may include any allegation, suspicion, concern, or report of a breach of the entity’s code of conduct. It also includes disclosures made to an institution that may be about, or relate to, abuse in the entity’s context.

Conflicts of interest means situations where a conflict arises between a person’s official duties and their private interests, which could influence the performance of those official duties. Such conflict generally involves opposing principles or incompatible wishes or needs.

Cultural safety means an environment that is safe for people of all ethnicities and cultural identities: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening.



Dicastery means departments of the Roman Curia, including the Secretariat of State, Congregations, Tribunals, Councils and Offices.

Diocese means ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the leadership of a bishop or an archbishop. In this document it is used as an inclusive term, including eparchies, ordinariates and personal prelatures.



Entity means an entity that has been identified as Catholic by a competent authority within the Catholic Church.

Eparchy means a term used by the Eastern Catholic Churches to denote ecclesiastical jurisdictions under the leadership of a bishop or an archbishop (also called an eparch or an archeparch).

Exposure to family violence - refer to ‘child abuse’.



Formation/formation program means a program preparing individuals for ordination or profession of vows as well as a lifelong journey to the invitation of Christ to proclaim and live the Gospel message within the life of the Church.



Grooming/grooming behaviour - refer to ‘child abuse’.



Institutional abuse means, in the formal setting of an institution, child abuse could be caused by factors such as:

  • a “closed” culture within an organization where transparency is discouraged;
  • failure to properly check the backgrounds and interview staff;
  • inadequate training of staff;
  • lack of child protection policies;
  • lack of support of staff by management;
  • poor communication skills; and/or
  • poor supervision of staff and children.



Lay/lay person means members of the Catholic Church other than bishops, priests, deacons and religious.

Leaders means personnel who are responsible for important governance decisions within a Church entity and/or who lead and coordinate Church improvement initiatives.

Leaders of Religious Institutes means the person acting in that canonical role (by whatever name) from time to time.



Mentor means an experienced and trusted advisor or a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time.

Ministerial PJP means a public juridic person established by a religious institute which provides sponsorship and lay leadership for ministries of the religious institute, to ensure their continuation as works of the Catholic Church.

The establishing authority for these entities is varied – some ministerial PJPs have been established by the Holy See through the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and are known as PJPs of pontifical right, others have been authorised by diocesan or provincial Bishops.

Canon law defines a public juridic person (PJP) as ‘ an aggregate of persons or things constituted by the competent ecclesial authority to fulfil a proper function given them in view of the common good’ [Can. 114 §1].

Ministry means any activity within, or delivered by, an entity that is designed to carry out the good works of the Catholic Church.



Neglect - refer to ‘child abuse’.



Offender means a person who has admitted abuse or whose responsibility for abuse has been determined by a court of law (criminal or civil), statutory or church procedure.

Ordinariate means a non-geographical diocese, an example of which is the Catholic Military Ordinariate of Australia which is administered by a bishop with the faculties of an Ordinary and thus this organisation is known by the term ordinariate.

Overseas clergy and religious means any cleric or member of a religious institute who is specifically recruited from overseas by a Church Authority or entity.



Personal prelature means a canonical structure of the Catholic Church which comprises a prelate, clergy and laity who undertake specific pastoral activities. The first personal prelature is Opus Dei.

Personnel means a cleric, member of a religious institute or other person who is employed by the entity or engaged on a contract, subcontract, voluntary or unpaid basis.

Physical abuse - refer to ‘child abuse’.

Position description means a document which details the role, responsibilities and expectations of a role within an entity and outlines reporting lines.

Professional supervision means a forum for reflection and learning, an interactive dialogue between at least two people, one of whom is professionally trained as a supervisor. The dialogue shapes a process of review, reflection, critique and replenishment for personnel. Supervision is a professional activity in which personnel are engaged regardless of experience or qualification. Supervision assists personnel in their accountabilities for professional standards (including in relation to maintenance of professional boundaries), defined competencies for their role and understanding and implementation of organisational policy and procedures.

For clerics and religious, professional supervision assists in the maintenance of boundaries of the pastoral relationship and enhances the quality of their ministry. A cleric/religious’ commitment to conscious and critical reflection on their ministry and ministry experiences is recognised as being important for the wellbeing of the cleric/religious, the people with whom they exercise ministry, the wider Church and the community.

Protective behaviours program means an age-appropriate structured education program to equip children and young people with the skills and knowledge to enhance their personal safety.

Psychological abuse - refer to ‘child abuse’.



Religious Institute means an institute of consecrated life, a secular institute or society of apostolic life, and their provinces or equivalent.

Respondent means a person against whom a complaint is made.



Safeguarding means measures to protect the safety, human rights and well-being of individuals, which allow people - in this context children - to live free from abuse, harm and neglect.

Safeguarding Committee means a committee established to advise and support the Church Authority on all matters relating to safeguarding, including the development and implementation of a Safeguarding Implementation Plan and coordination of annual self-audits at a local level. Committee members need relevant and varied professional expertise in relation to safeguarding, child protection, organisational culture and structure, policy development, etc, and need to include lay women and men.

Safeguarding Coordinator means an individual who champions safeguarding and coordinates the implementation of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards within an entity.

Safeguarding Implementation Plan means a documented plan which articulates actions to be taken across the entity to ensure safeguarding practices are in place. It includes actions, strategies, responsibilities and delegations and tracks review and progress. It is overseen by the Safeguarding Committee.

Seminary means a centre for the formation and education of students preparing for ordination.

Sexual abuse - refer to ‘child abuse’.

Spiritual abuse means the abuse of a child that is perpetrated by an individual in a position of authority and trust within the Church, supposedly in the name of God. It can cause a child to have lifelong loss of faith and/or feel distanced from the Church.

Substantiated complaint means allegations proven to be true or supported with evidence.



Third parties means any individual, group or organisation outside the entity who either contract services and facilities to or from the entity. For example, groups hiring Church facilities for private or public use (birthday parties, men’s sheds, exercise groups, etc), companies contracted to provide design and print work for an entity, consultants, etc.



Working with children check means generic term used in the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards to denote the statutory screening requirement for people who work or volunteer in child-related work. There is no single national framework setting out requirements for 'working with children' checks. Each State/Territory in Australia has its own name, procedures and differences in scope regarding what this type of check entails. They are one part of a Church entity’s recruitment, selection and screening practices.