A bishop has written to the director of a Catholic Schools Office that oversees 24 schools asking that principals be directed to stop asking priests for their working-with-children checks.
The bishop of Armidale, Michael Kennedy, wrote: “It has been brought to my attention that some schools may be requiring that the priests who are ex officio members of the School Advisory Council provide their working-with-children check details.”
He wrote that the diocese verified and recorded these checks and that schools should accept that all priests were required by the diocese to have a working-with-children check and therefore did not need to ask the priests for those details.
He asked the director of the Catholic Schools Office, Christopher Smyth, to “notify the schools not to ask the priests to provide their working-with-children check and if they have, they are not to register as the priest’s employer for the purposes of verifying the working-with-children check”.
Armidale is a city in the northern tablelands of New South Wales. The Catholic Schools Office Diocese of Armidale administers 24 schools, including 19 primary, two central and three secondary schools. The working-with-children check is a requirement for anyone who works or volunteers in child-related sectors, and involves a criminal history record check and a review of reportable workplace misconduct.
Schools must register with the Office of the Children’s Guardian and must verify all workers have a valid check, including those working in positions like school cleaners, who may be employed by an external company, or school volunteers.
Chris Smyth, the director of schools in the Catholic Diocese of Armidale, said schools had a rigorous and comprehensive child protection policy.
“All priests in the Diocese of Armidale who undertake any ministry in Catholic Schools have a current verified working-with-children check,” he said. “The Diocese has provided these to the Catholic Schools Office who then make them available to school principals upon request.”
In public schools, school principals and admin staff do not have to request checks from district office and can ask for details of the checks themsel
It follows controversial comments made by Kennedy during Sunday mass about the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for child sexual abuse crimes. He told parishioners: “When you and I look at the cardinal’s life isn’t it reasonable to apply today’s gospel and think ‘surely a good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit but good fruit?’
“There are many people who, on the information they have gleaned, cannot understand how the jury could have come to a guilty verdict,” he said.
“The evidence and testimonies, at least those that have come to public knowledge, seem to leave plenty of room for incredulity or ‘reasonable doubt’ to say the least.”
Meanwhile, Kennedy has urged recipients of the Cathedral Parish of Saints Mary and Joseph newsletter to remember Pell in their prayers. It also contained a quote: “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.”
Pell was convicted following a committal hearing followed by a trial. Jurors deliberated for almost four days after listening to five weeks of evidence.They were unanimous in their guilty verdict.