Saturday, February 3, 2001

Classis QLD Abuse Complaints Committee

1. CLASSIS QLD ABUSE COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE

2. "FREE TO BE ME"

2.1. Are you in an abusive relationship?

2.1.1. If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship of any kind, find out as much as you can. Don't wait. Don’t waste much of your time feeling angry, frustrated, imposed upon, taken advantage of and limited. You do not have to live with roller coaster emotions or feel like you must guard your words or walk on egg shells. Don't let this happen to you. You have a right and a responsibility to live free of abusive behaviour.

2.1.2. Abusive people believe that conflict, arguing, controlling, and emotional outbursts are what life is all about. They believe that it is, in fact, life. But it is not! You and your spouse or family can discover how to avoid this and unlearn destructive patterns. You can take control of your own feelings and the way you communicate, without trying to control other persons.

2.2. Classis Queensland (CRCA) Abuse Complaints Committee

2.2.1. In response to a decision made by Synod, the Classis of Queensland appointed an Abuse Complaints Committee (ACC) to assist local Sessions as they determine the appropriate responses to deal directly with complaints of abuse and harassment against CRCA members.

2.3. So what can you do?

2.3.1. If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship of any kind, be willing to break your silence.
2.3.2. Get the help you need! A cycle of abuse is rarely broken without outside help.
2.3.3. You are welcome to contact an Abuse Complaints Committee member for more information, for help, or to make a complaint, at any one of the following numbers: 040 536 4361 (Rev. Dr. Johann Eloff) or 043 049 6292 (Rev. Dr. Gerhard Oberholzer).

3. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND, ROLE AND POSITION OF THE CLASSIS QUEENSLAND ABUSE COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE (ACC)

3.1. Historical Background

3.1.1. The 1994 Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCA) appointed a Study Committee on "Abuse" to investigate the incidence of abuse within the CRCA, how the Sessions dealt with it, and to provide pastoral guidelines for use in our churches. The lengthy Report to the 1997 Synod sadly acknowledged that the various forms of abuse, i.e., sexual, physical and emotional abuse, were also occurring in our denomination. The Report clearly defined the various forms of abuse, its occurrences in various relationships, including marriages, families and the church fellowship. The Study Committee developed pastoral guidelines, based on the excellent work done by the Christian Reformed Church in North America. To assist in raising awareness of abuse and to educate Sessions and church members, the Synod Report was edited and published under the title "For Justice and Healing". Sessions and church members are asked to refer to that booklet for general guidelines on abuse. It provides good theological and counselling background reading for pastoral care for cases of various kinds of abuse in church families.

3.1.2. In addition to the above mentioned booklet, "For Justice and Healing", and its general guidelines on abuse, Synod further instructed its Study Committee on Abuse to provide a Policy and Procedures document for the specific problem of sexual abuse and harassment by church leaders against church members, especially women and children. This involves the unique dynamics of the pastoral relationship with the inherent issues of power and trust. It is also a specific concern in that legislation indicates that an employer may be responsible for the actions of its employees in matters of sexual harassment unless the employer has taken all reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour or acted promptly on any reports of such behaviour. That document was published under the title, “Healing a Broken Trust”. It was provisionally adopted by 2000 Synod for use in the CRCA, with provisions for review at the 2003 Synod.

3.1.3. A number of years ago, Rev. Alan Dauma accepted the responsibility to set up a properly functioning Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee for CRCA Classis Queensland, according to the guidelines set in “Healing a Broken Trust”. I became a member of his team, and we worked hard in an effort to get the SACC off the ground and functioning. We were not successful, mainly due to the unavailability of suitable members from our own congregations, for a three year period (as prescribed by the relevant document). After Alan Douma left for Papua New Guinea early 2009, Classis Queensland had to find someone to replace him as Convener of this committee.

3.2. Current Position and Role of CRCA Classis of Queensland

3.2.1. In 2010, Classis QLD adopted the ‘Healing a Broken Trust’ Document as its policy and procedures in responding to complaints, not only of sexual abuse, but of abuse in general, with the following exceptions:

3.2.1.1. Classis appointed an Abuse Complaints Committee (ACC), accountable to Classis (in line with procedures described in CO Art. 46), consisting of:
3.2.1.1.1. a member (convener) with expertise in abuse issues
3.2.1.1.2. a member having knowledge and understanding of pastoral ethics and appropriate behaviour for church members (including Session members and church workers).

3.2.1.2. Classis chartered the ACC to assist the local Sessions as they determine the appropriate pastoral and disciplinary responses to deal directly with complaints of abuse and harassment against CRCA members.

3.2.1.3. Classis empowered the ACC to establish a list (panel) of professional specialists in legal matters, physical, emotional, sexual, and child abuse issues, skilled in counselling and supporting abuse victims, and in child protection and conciliation. The ACC has to ensure that they are confessing Christians, and members in good standing and recommended by their churches. These specialists have to be available in their professional capacity, to act as Advisors and Advocates, assisting Complainants and Accused during the complaints process, as described in point 5.2 of the ‘Healing a Broken Trust’ document.

3.2.1.4. The role of the ACC is as described in point 5.1 of the ‘Healing a Broken Trust’ document:
3.2.1.4.1. “… to investigate the complaint received directly from the complainant or via the local Session;
3.2.1.4.2. to work together with the local Session throughout the process;
3.2.1.4.3. together with the local Session, to facilitate a resolution with sensitivity, compassion and pastoral care, to all parties concerned, including the local church;
3.2.1.4.4. to educate and inform the churches in the Classis on matters relating to sexual abuse and harassment;
3.2.1.4.5. to be available to the local Session for advice in dealing with allegations of abuse not involving a Session member or church worker and assisting in investigating such allegations."
3.2.1.4.6. The ACC has to focus its education and information task on matters relating abuse in general, including sexual abuse.

4. ABUSE COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE

4.1. The Classis QLD Abuse Complaints Committee has been established, and is constituted as follows (04/02/11):

4.1.1. Member (convener) with expertise in abuse issues: Rev. Dr. Johann Eloff
4.1.2. Member having knowledge and understanding of pastoral ethics and appropriate behaviour for church members (including Session members and church workers): Rev. Gerhard Oberholzer
4.1.3. Panel of professional Christian specialists who agreed to cooperate with the ACC:
4.1.3.1. With legal knowledge and expertise:
4.1.3.1.1. Lyrene Wiid. Lawyer. Specialize in child protection, family law, domestic violence issues - Toowoomba (w: 46387973; chriswiid@powerup.com.au).
4.1.3.1.1.1. Note: The legal representative identified for the panel of the ACC has expertise in Child Protection, Family Law, and Domestic Violence issues, but expertise in Criminal Law Advocacy would seem to be essential also.
4.1.3.2. With expertise in physical, emotional, sexual, and child abuse issues:
4.1.3.2.1. Dr. Anna R. Johnson. Clinical and Counselling Psychologist. Specializes in family and couples counselling, as advisor to ACC only - 76 Merthyr Road, New Farm (w: 07 3358 4666; m: 0449 707 140; anna@positivepsychology.com.au).
4.1.3.3. Skilled in counselling, supporting abuse victims, child protection and conciliation:
4.1.3.3.1. Anita Maartens. Psychologist. 0404 586 818;
4.1.3.3.2. Pierre Bonnet. Psychologist. Specializes in Abuse cases. 0438 739 274.
4.1.3.4. Skilled in child protection and conciliation:
4.1.3.4.1. Still Vacant

5. SUMMARY OF THE PROCEDURES (SEE ALSO PT. 6.10 OF THE DOCUMENT“HEALING A BROKEN TRUST”) OF THE ACC

5.1. Once a complaint is received by the Convener of ACC, the Complainant should be advised of the process that is to be undertaken by the ACC and seek the Complainant’s consent to proceed.
5.1.1. Note: The Complainant should be asked if he/she consents to the relevant Session being informed of the complaint. The ACC should aim to work together with the relevant Session throughout the procedure provided the Complainant consents to this.
5.1.2. Note: The ACC and the relevant Session should at all times maintain confidentiality and seek consent from the Complainant if disclosures/referrals are to be made to third parties.

5.2. The ACC informs the relevant Session Chairman of the complaint provided consent is given by the Complainant.

5.3. The ACC ascertains whether the Complainant has made or is intending to make a complaint to Police.

5.4. In the event that the Complainant has made or is intending to make a complaint to the police, the ACC should provide a support and referral service only, to both parties, until the court proceedings have been finalised
5.4.1. Note: The Complainant can be referred to Victims Assist Queensland (VAQ) (a government organisation providing support and financial assistance to victims of crime), and/or to an appropriate Christian counselling service. An Accused person can be referred to a criminal defence lawyer or to Legal Aid Queensland, or to an appropriate Christian counselling service.
5.4.2. Note: It is inappropriate for any person or organisation to attempt to influence a Complainant to make, or not to make a formal complaint. These actions can amount to perverting the course of justice and could be prejudicial to both parties.
5.4.3. Note: If the Complainant chooses to make a formal complaint to Police and proceed through the Court process, the Church should do no more than support and refer both parties to appropriate support organisations, until the matter is finally determined. No formal inquiry or arbitration of the facts should take place while a police investigation is underway or while a matter is before the courts for determination.

5.5. In the event that
• a) the Complainant decides not to make a complaint to the police;
• b) the complaint relates to a matter that does not amount to criminal conduct; or
• c) a complaint has been made to police and any resulting court proceedings have come to a conclusion;
the matter is suitable for Complaint Resolution Proceedings to be undertaken by the relevant Session assisted by the ACC.
5.5.1. Note: The ACC should not become involved in resolving / determining the matter, until such time as (a), (b), or (c) has been satisfied.

5.6. The purpose of Complaint Resolution Proceedings is for the ACC to:
• Liaise with the Complainant and the Accused, regarding the details of the complaint, advise them of the process and provide access to support needed by the parties throughout the process and to the relevant Session;
• Gather information relating to the complaint and provide the information to the relevant Session;
• Assist the relevant Session to obtain the information it needs to determine whether there is either repentant or unrepentant sin on the part of the Accused or the Complainant; and
• Assist the relevant Session to provide ongoing pastoral care to the relevant parties during the Complaint Resolution Process and after a determination has been made.

5.7. In the event that the matter is suitable for Complaint Resolution Proceedings, the ACC shall:
5.7.1. Appoint an Advocate for the Complainant who meets with the Complainant and prepares a written report for the ACC;
5.7.1.1. Note: The Advocate links the Complainant with needed services, monitors and reports on the process to the Complainant and ensures care for the family.
5.7.2. Inform the Accused of the complaint;
5.7.3. Present the Accused with a written statement detailing the nature of the complaint;
5.7.4. Appoint an Adviser for the Accused; and
5.7.4.1. Note: The Accused’s Advisor links the Accused with needed services, and ensures care of the Accused’s family.
5.7.4.2. Note: The Accused should be given the opportunity to seek specialist legal advice at any time in the process they choose and this type of advice should not be given by the Advisor.
5.7.5. Arrange a meeting with the Accused, the Accused’s Adviser and two ACC members, to discuss the complaint.
5.7.5.1. If the Accused accepts the allegations made by the Complainant, the matter is to be referred to the relevant Session for appropriate action, to be determined by the relevant Session.
5.7.5.1.1. Note: Session may choose to discipline the Accused in accordance with Church Order or obtain the assistance of the ACC to mediate a mutually satisfactory resolution for all parties.
5.7.5.1.2. Note: Session shall take into consideration whether the Accused is repentant or not in deciding what disciplinary action to take.
5.7.5.2. If the Accused does not accept the allegations made by the Complainant, further evidence and written statements may be obtained by the ACC. The ACC shall present all information in its possession relating to the complaint to the relevant Session, which shall determine if the Accused is responsible for unrepentant sin against the Complainant relevant to the complaint.
5.7.5.2.1. If the relevant Session determines that the Accused is responsible for unrepentant sin against the Complainant relevant to the complaint, the relevant Session shall decide what disciplinary action is appropriate having regard to all of the circumstances.
5.7.5.2.1.1. Note: Disciplinary action shall be taken in accordance with Church Order and may include public acknowledgment, apology, and resignation from office and/or restitution. Where necessary, the ACC can assist Session with a pastoral plan for the church, in order to bring healing to the church.
5.7.5.2.2. If the relevant Session determines that the Accused is NOT responsible for unrepentant sin against the Complainant relevant to the complaint, the relevant Session will ensure the Accused is officially cleared.
5.7.5.2.2.1. Note: The relevant Session shall ensure that the Accused is officially cleared in the eyes of those with knowledge of the complaint and this may include a formal statement to the church, or a letter to the Complainant.
5.7.5.2.3. If the relevant Session determines that:
• the Accused is NOT responsible for unrepentant sin against the complainant; and
• the Complainant has made a false complaint against the Accused,
the matter is to be referred to the Session for appropriate disciplinary action against the Complainant, to be determined by Session.
5.7.5.2.3.1. Note: Session may choose to discipline the Complainant in accordance with Church Order or obtain the assistance of the ACC to mediate a mutually satisfactory resolution for all parties.
5.7.5.2.3.2. Note: Session shall take into consideration whether the Complainant is repentant or not in deciding what disciplinary action to take.

5.7.6. The ACC in conjunction with the relevant Session shall ensure that both the Complainant and the Accused have ongoing support and referral services throughout Complaint Resolution Proceedings and after a determination has been made.


Resources
1. For Justice and Healing
2. Healing a Broken Trust
3. Nicole Schmitt Davey (Nicole.Schmitt@justice.qld.gov.au), a qualified, practising Solicitor, who is currently employed by The Director of Public Prosecutions, and who has previous, wide experience as a Criminal Defence Advocate to assist the ACC to establish a comprehensive abuse complaints procedure, which will meet the full range of contingencies and circumstances that may need to be dealt with by the Churches.
 
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