Perth Leads the Way on Facing Abuse

In a two-part series being featured in the e-Record, leader and pioneer in child protection, Andrea Musulin, talks of dramatic changes taking place in the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth to face abuse head on and to minimise future opportunities of its reoccurence.

In the midst of ongoing reports about child sexual abuse in the short history of the Australian Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Perth is breaking new ground nationally.

In April 2014, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe spoke to media of establishing Safeguarding Officers in each of the Archdiocese’s parishes.

“Much preparation work has been done since that time,” said the Archbishop. “I am pleased to say that we are now closer than ever to seeing two volunteer officers selected and trained for each parish.”

The recent appointment by Archbishop Costelloe of Andrea Musulin, an expert in child protection, is seeing the Catholic community across Perth establish itself as the first diocese to embark upon appointing Safeguarding Officers into every parish.

Additionally, it aims to educate children in Catholics schools aged four years and upwards with age-appropriate knowledge about protective behaviours so as to reduce the opportunities for future abuse.

Musulin joined the Archdiocese of Perth with a background of 28 years of experience as a police officer specialising in child protection. She has provided services to children in metropolitan, rural and remote areas of Western Australia and has developed the first and only Child Protection Program for Rural and Remote Children.

She was inducted into Western Australia’s International Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011, being recognised as a leader and pioneer in the field of child protection. She is also highly experienced in educating children and youth in personal safety and abuse prevention.

Safeguarding Officers

Discussing her role to date, and her priorities over the coming months, Musulin said things are moving forward.

“We are looking carefully at each of the 12 Standards for a Child-Safe Organisation, as laid down by the Royal Commission.

“One of the standards we have chosen to take on board is to establish Safeguarding Officers in every parish. Parishes will very soon be receiving a short DVD and pamphlets inviting parishioners to give careful consideration to volunteering to become Safeguarding Officers.

“Under my leadership, they will be given the task of taking all of these national standards into the parish and ensuring that they are adhered to. That is the overarching goal of my work.

“Some of these national standards,” she stated, “will include providing clergy with mandatory training wherever necessary and children, parents and parishioners with the opportunity for training. It will include managing buildings and the environments in which we, as Church, operate, such as the sealing of a confessional when in operation but changing a wooden door to a glass or glass-panelled door, or giving instructions on when to leave a door open. It is about different ways of doing business with a child protection hat on.”

Musulin went on to say that Safeguarding Officers will be trained in all facets of child protection. A policy document will be developed to ensure that standard operational procedures are adhered to, and that Working with Children checks are consistently in place and recorded on an auditable register.

“The priority at this time is the establishment of Safeguarding Officers,” she said.

“I am not aware of this happening in any other part of the Catholic Church in Australia to this degree, or within any other of the Christian communities. So, it would appear that we are leading the way.

“We are aware that the Royal Commission will pass down recommendations but we don’t have time to wait for those. We understand and recognise the importance of doing something now rather than being solely reactive.”

She went on to say that the Safeguarding Office is primarily concerned with being proactive to prevent offences from occurring.

“That is the best way forward,” she said.

Musulin made it clear that this operation would take “some time to roll out” as there are more than 100 parishes in Perth alone.

Priests and Parishes

In recent weeks, she has presented two training days to Archdiocesan clergy on the topics of understanding child sexual abuse, safeguarding, and the place of protective behaviours.

“The response from Archdiocesan clergy has been overwhelmingly positive, but it takes time for each person to fully understand the need to play his part.

Speaking of the practical application of the safeguarding project, Musulin detailed how three very different pilot parishes have been chosen to help drive and guide what safeguarding will look like. These are St Anthony’s in Greenmount, Mater Christi in Yangebup and the two rural parishes of St Mary’s, Bruce Rock and St Mary’s, Merredin.

“These have been chosen so that we can see how safeguarding will work between two different rural parishes and also between two different metropolitan parishes, as well as what the difference might be between rural situations and metropolitan ones.”

What was also important, Musulin pointed out, is that “Mater Christi has secondary schools feeding into it and I am interested to see how this work will impact secondary students, whereas St Anthony’s has a primary school focus”.

“We want to be inclusive of ensuring children aged four to 16 are aware of protective behaviours training whilst protecting children from zero right up to 18.

“Yangebup has been chosen because it involves a different religious order to the parish in Greenmount. Bruce Rock does not have a school but is strongly linked with the state school, whereas Merredin does have a Catholic school.

“I am interested to know whether safeguarding is affected when a school is under Catholic Education or when it is state run. The State Education Department is on top of this and I am pleased to say that the wheels are also turning at Catholic Education.”

Selection and Training

On the topic of training Safeguarding Officers, Musulin stated that she will be looking for “people with the right credentials”.

“Ideally, those with prior experience dealing with child protection, such as teaching, social welfare, policing, some experience with children and youth, would be beneficial to put up their hands in the first instance. It is not absolutely necessary but we will provide full training and all the necessary support.

“We are looking at simple things like how people will identify the Safeguarding Officers in the parish and how do we bring these people to the attention of children. Although I have many of my own ideas, I also want to ensure that the parishes are able to take ownership for this crucial aspect of parish life.

“It is a very important area and one that everybody recognises we need to get 100 per cent right. To make this manageable, we are considering breaking down support at a local level into clusters. I will be the overarching officer who mentors and guides all of them.

Police and Church

Comparing her present role to her previous work, Musulin said that the Catholic Church is a very different place to working with the police.

“With the police, there are no grey areas. Policing is what it is. There are consequences to stepping out of line. With the Archbishop and his office, the structure is clearly defined but the structure of the Church generally is not always clearly defined.

“There has to be one person that can instruct people to embrace safeguarding. It will be very important that every facet of the Church, wherever it fits into the Catholic community, takes this seriously and plays a full part.

“I am using the Discount Hierarchy model, which is a way of determining acceptance and resistance to a problem, to make sure this is engaged with.

“This is not something people should be told they have to do,” she went on to say.

“The Gospel tells us it’s the right thing to do – you can’t argue with this.

“The law says you will, but also morally each individual has to recognise this has to be done.

“The problem is very complex but the solution and how we deal with it is simple, but not simplistic.”

Archbishop’s Commitment and Priority

Although a challenging subject to deal with on a daily basis, Musulin spoke of what is encouraging within her present role.

“For me, the greatest positive is how the Archbishop has embraced this as he has. He has left no doubt in my mind that he is committed to the role of protecting children and changing the way we look after children.

“In its own way, Catholicism can breed child sexual abuse because sex education is not taught until kids are 11 years of age. Then they are out of the risk bracket.

“The Archbishop is open to hearing what I have to say and is open to the reforms that may be needed. This has impressed me very much.

“He is our starting point. He has given me a lot of encouragement and freedom and is, in all honesty, much more dedicated to getting this right than I first thought he would be.

“The Church has gone to great lengths to get me in this role which shows commitment. I thought this may just be another task that needed to be done rather than it actually being a priority, which it clearly is for the Archdiocese of Perth. That has been very positive.”

A Better Church

Speaking of her engagement with the wider Archdiocese, Musulin said that she was encouraged in her engagement with the Church, insomuch as those she is working with, both clergy and people, “get it”.

“Most of them get it and most of them are very positive and see what I am doing as a way forward. Most of them see that this is an opportunity to make the Church a better Church.

“The topic we are having to face is a negative one but what we are trying to do is to change it and find a positive. Child sexual abuse is not something new that has happened since 1930. It has happened for hundreds of years and has always been there.

“We have never stared this in the eye and said, ‘now we are going to deal with it’ but I am confident now that we are, especially in the Archdiocese of Perth where it is well and truly being dealt with.

“Another positive for me,” said Musulin, “is the autonomy which the Archbishop has given to me. I feel free to say things as they need to be said and I have not sugar coated matters.

“From the responses I have had back from clergy training, they have appreciated this approach.”

Child Safe Organisations

Aside from the focus on safeguarding, Musulin spoke of other training days that have occurred across the Archdiocese of Perth in recent months.

“The first of the 12 Standards is to create awareness and to change past cultures. Part of my brief is to help staff who are presently engaged within the Archdiocese to be on top of things.

“Ongoing training, awareness and education in this field is going to lead towards Child Safe Organisations. This is very important.

“There are so many different aspects to the aftermath of abuse. There is the trauma aspect, the mental illness aspect, the practicalities, the theory, the reactive and the proactive and how they all work together. That is where my work comes together with the Professional Standards Office. Their work is reactive but my work is proactive, working side by side to deal with the hurt that has already happened but to also prevent it from happening in the future.”

Musulin spoke of being encouraged by rooms filled with local professionals who recently met at St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth to better understand mental health issues in the context of dealing with abuse survivors.

“Although many of the cases that Towards Healing have been dealing with are historical cases, largely in part due to the Royal Commission, moving forward, I think we are actually going to see more of the current – or the more recent – cases of child sex abuse cases once we start empowering people to talk about it. This happens once we start changing the culture of people dealing with abuse and when we start listening to people’s stories.

“Once you change that culture, you create an openness about abuse where parents and children will feel they can come and talk. So, I am confident that we will deal with this topic better than it has been dealt with in the past.”

Aside from training and educating ordained clergy, Musulin spoke of the additional tasks she is undertaking.

“I will shortly be working with a professor of counselling to deliver training to all trainee priests in the two Archdiocesan seminaries.”

Educating Children

Once she has established the training of Safeguarding Officers and a culture of growing awareness within parishes, Musulin says she will turn her attention towards taking protective behaviours education into Catholic schools and educating children.

“We need to make children aware that abuse only ever happens as a result of opportunity.

“Knowledge is power. Power lessens opportunity and that’s how we have to look at it. And for years we have not given knowledge to the children.

“In the past, Catholicism has not allowed for that knowledge to be transferred. The time is now right to start, without removing our children’s innocence. Knowledge is to be given age appropriately, done developmentally appropriately, and without in any way removing a child’s innocence. All parents need to change the way they think as well.”

Exciting Future

An air of excitement quietly wraps itself around Musulin as she explains the journey forward.

“The sheer fact that something is being done is exciting and the time is right. People are ready for it and I think people are hungry for it. There has been so much negativity.

“I think, on a personal level, that Pope Francis has a lot to do with this. Things work well when they are from the top down. What we are doing in Perth is a classic example of the top down.

“The inception of National Standards also excites me. I work quite solo at the moment and I am confident enough to work solo, but to have National Standards is exciting, too.

“We will be issued with a policy document to tell us what to do which is breaking new ground. It is exciting that when we put all this into place, the opportunity to offend within the Catholic Church is going to be much less. We won’t be able to eradicate abuse but we can definitely lessen the opportunity. That, to me, is exciting.”