Christchurch diocese has appointed a safeguarding coordinator, and is the first diocese in New Zealand to have such a dedicated position.

Virginia Noonan, who has an extensive background in law and a long involvement in Catholic education, started in the part-time role on May 8.

The National Office for Professional Standards has recommended that each diocese appoint a safeguarding coordinator.

Ms Noonan reports directly to the Christchurch diocese’s Bishop’s Pastoral Office director Michael Stopforth and will work with the bishop directly as needed. Mr Stopforth told NZ Catholic that the role of the safeguarding coordinator is to assist the bishop in ensuring that safeguarding guidelines approved by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and heads of religious orders are implemented in Christchurch diocese.

“As a diocese we want to have a safe environment and organisation for children and vulnerable people,” Mr Stopforth said.

“This role will support the bishop in his task of implementing a plan to achieve this to the best ability we can.”

He added: “It is important to note that our diocese already has a number of processes and procedures in place in terms of safeguarding, however we want to raise the standard even further.”

Mr Stopforth explained that the role has several aspects.

The safeguarding coordinator will be a first point of contact in Christchurch diocese for those who have a concern arising from their work about abuse or potential abuse.

The position also involves ensuring individuals disclosing abuse in the Church have their complaints promptly forwarded to the National Office for Professional Standards.

As part of her role, Ms Noonan will develop policy and guidelines (in light of national developments and working in collaboration with the National Office for Professional Standards and other dioceses). Advice will be given to the bishop on implementing the guidelines. Guidelines developed for the diocese will be reviewed by a small working party and then recommended to the bishop. It will be up to the bishop to formalise these guidelines as he chooses. Guidelines recently adopted by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and heads of religious orders, based on material from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, will form the basis of this work.

“As a diocese we will draw on the wealth of material from other places; other dioceses in NZ and other dioceses overseas who are already well down the path in this area,” Mr Stopforth said.

The role also involves training on safeguarding for parishes and organisations working with children, young people and vulnerable adults.

Another aspect of the role is collaborating with clergy and parishes in implementation of any guidelines and policy the bishop chooses to implement in our diocese, Mr Stopforth added.

Christchurch diocese clergy spent one and a half days on May 9-10 focusing on safeguarding, “so clergy themselves are already part of the process of forming an implementation plan for the diocese”. Bill Kilgallon, director of the National Office for Professional Standards, addressed the clergy.

Mr Stopforth said schools are not included in the safeguarding coordinator’s work at this stage – as schools already have well developed policies in this area.

“We are starting with parishes and the various ministries and groups associated with the parish.  As time progresses it is likely we will extend the education process to others.”

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