The Head of Safeguarding in the Diocese of Parramatta, Tracy McLeod Howe, has returned from the first face-to-face International Safeguarding Conference held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome since the pandemic, reporting that the initiatives that the Diocese has taken to date align with approaches taken in other dioceses around the world. Pope Francis has voiced his support of the conference, which aims to raise awareness of both the challenges of reporting abuse, as well as the networks and resources for supporting reporting.
Tracy feels that the Diocese of Parramatta is clearly on the ‘right track’ regarding its approach to Safeguarding.
“Bishop Vincent’s approach to synodality, his giving lay people a voice, elevating the voices of women, and embracing people from outside the Church, including interfaith dialogue, were themes that were presented and discussed at the conference as part of the ‘Safeguarding mindset’”, she said.
The 60 or so delegates of the conference which aims to foster discussion on issues related to reporting abuse, came from dioceses in countries including Kenya, Ireland, the USA, and Mexico.
“Ireland and Scotland are also showing great leadership in their Safeguarding work with trauma-informed practice and survivor-focused initiatives,” said Tracy. “Many countries, such as India, Mexico and the Philippines are less resourced in terms of their Safeguarding efforts, but this network offers an opportunity to share and support each other.”
Both Broken Bay Diocese and the Archdiocese of Sydney were represented at the conference, having been part of the international discussion on Safeguarding for some time.
The organisers hope to create a global network for sharing information on practices and experiences, so that Safeguarding practitioners can learn from each other without losing a culturally sensitive approach.
Although these stakeholders have been networking for a number of years, this conference proved to be the most targeted, seeking consensus for common areas of work and an appetite for a cohesive international voice in the Church’s approach to Safeguarding.
Fr Hans Zoller, the President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Gregorian University in Rome, and the Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors addressed the delegates, stressing the significance of the opportunity for Safeguarding professionals to meet face-to-face following the pandemic. “He encouraged us to collaborate, target our efforts into this forum, and include the highest levels of Religious in this safeguarding endeavour,” said Tracy. “He sees great value in this forum and hopes to see it continue.”
At the end of the conference, working groups reported on their discussions. There was a recurring theme: that all dioceses develop a joint position on Safeguarding.
“Although Parramatta is on a journey, and we are always a ‘work in progress’ the direction Bishop Vincent is taking us aligns with a Safeguarding mindset,” said Tracy. “It is my hope that we will continue to contribute to this forum, participate and enable ongoing dialogue, and play our role in helping it succeed, and with it, a safer universal Church for all.”