In 1994, the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service was given a specific reference to investigate and report on paedophilia and pederasty in New South Wales. The churches came under the spotlight in the Commission’s investigations, and were in the most part found wanting in their failure to protect children from abusers in the church. The Presbyterian Church of New South Wales was commended for the policy already in place, known as Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence was adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales in 1997, with revisions adopted the following year. This represented a very significant step towards understanding and dealing with the problem of abuse within the Presbyterian church, with many other States subsequently adopting and adapting these editions of Breaking the Silence.
In 2003, it was decided that the CPU would be established. At this point, it was called the Child Protection Unit. Since then, there have been significant developments in legislation and our understanding of church issues. In 2011, the name Conduct Protocol Unit was introduced, indicating the broadening of the scope of Breaking the Silence to cover abuse towards people of any age within our church communities.
Further developments in child protection legislation, mandatory and voluntary reporting procedures arose in subsequent years, including the participation of offices such as the Office of the Children’s Guardian in monitoring investigations of allegations, the involvement of government departments responsible for caring for children, and the development of Commissions for Children and Young people in various States and Territories.
In 2012, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its five-year inquiry, during which thousands of individuals shared their stories of childhood abuse.
In 2017, the final report was released, outlining the full extent of this dark issue. 4029 survivors told the Royal Commission in private sessions that they had been sexually abused as children in religious institutions. 2.8% of these instances occurred within Presbyterian or Reformed churches. These findings brought to light the tragic reality of the harm that has occurred within church ministry.
The Royal Commission’s report brought about a number of recommendations aimed at making organisations safer for children. The Presbyterian Church has taken a number of steps to ensure we have taken these on board. In 2019, the General Assembly of Australia adopted the National Safe Ministry Framework (NSMF) to establish a uniform and consistent approach to the protection of children within the Presbyterian Church of Australia. This was adopted by the NSW General Assembly in 2020.
Breaking the Silence in its present form is intended to address these issues and provide all congregations, Presbyteries, organisations, and committees within the church with a comprehensive tool to meet our legislated obligations and the requirements of the Presbyterian Church of Australia’s Code of Discipline.
We do this, not just in response to legal and societal expectations, but more importantly, to ensure the safety of our ministry activities for all and to attain justice for those who have been harmed.
This statement applies to all persons holding a position of authority within the church, and all congregations, presbyteries, organisations, and committees within the church. It is our commitment to dealing with abuse within the church.
This policy statement relates to abuse as defined in Breaking the Silence. It does not apply to any other forms of abuse, grievance or personal injury claim.
The following constitutes the church’s Code of Conduct for behaviour for a person in a position of authority within the church:
Where specified provisions cannot be followed in an emergency, the circumstances of the emergency and the actions taken should be reported to and approved by the supervising body. Where the actions taken are not approved they will be considered to be a breach of the Code of Conduct.
Any breaches of this Code of Conduct for any reason will be reported to the appropriate supervising body as soon as possible. The supervising body will then report the matter to the CPU.
Breaking the Silence 2020 replaces all existing policies and processes in place in the church. This includes previous editions of Breaking the Silence and any policies and processes.
Breaking the Silence acknowledges that some organisations, such as schools, pre-schools, childcare centres and hospitals, within the church may wish to establish or have already established policies and procedures for dealing with and preventing abuse. These organisations may seek to become an approved organisation and thereby be exempt from the provisions of Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence applies to anyone with a position of authority within the church, paid or unpaid, and to all those who work with children and young people. Breaking the Silence applies in the Presbyterian Church of Australia in the State of New South Wales including the Australian Capital Territory, in the State of Western Australia, in the State of Tasmania, Presbyterian Inland Mission and APWM.
The Conduct Protocol Unit has been established by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales as an expression of the Church’s commitment to providing all congregations, presbyteries and affiliated organisations with the best possible support, advice and resources in relation to abuse matters more broadly.
The CPU serves the Presbyterian Church of Australia in:
The CPU receives complaints and allegations of abuse and misconduct within the Presbyterian Church and affiliated organisations and has oversight of handling and responding to these complaints.
The CPU also ensures churches are compliant with child protection requirements by delivering and providing support regarding BTS training.
The CPU team comprises of the following positions:
Director, Jon Flood
Responsible for working with churches and ministry organisations by supporting, training, providing advice on matters of abuse and overseeing compliance to child protection requirements.
Case Manager, Vera Buvcevska
Provides support and advice on matters of abuse. Vera is also a trained Social Worker.
Administration Manager, Courtney Chan
Responsible for all administrative matters including the Working with Children Check and SRE authorisation.
Auditing and Compliance Manager, Kerry Cole
Responsible for auditing and supporting churches in their implementation of Breaking the Silence in their local ministry activities.
Training and Communications Manager, Elissa Donnellan
Works to update, revise and deliver Breaking the Silence training and improve communication between churches and CPU. Elissa also assists with administrative tasks.
The Presbyterian Church of Australia’s General Assembly met in September 2019 and has issued the following formal apology to victims of sexual abuse in the Church:
With deep sorrow the Presbyterian Church of Australia apologises to all who have been affected by sexual abuse through their involvement in the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
Sexual abuse of a child is appalling and wickedly violates Christ’s words, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
It is a breach of trust to those who have taken part in church activities, to their families, and to the wider community. We regret the hurt caused when our response as a church has denied or minimised the pain that victims have experienced or caused them to experience further pain.
The Presbyterian Church has taken steps to respond to child sexual abuse.
The Presbyterian Church of Australia in NSW is served by The Conduct Protocol Unit (CPU) and is fully committed to Breaking The Silence.
If you or someone whom you know has been the victim of abuse in the Church, contact the CPU on 02 96909325. Please be assured that you will be heard and that your confidentiality is assured.