Church agrees to screening of priests

In its toughest attack yet on paedophilia within the clergy, the Anglican Church has agreed to set up a national screening program for potential priests and church workers.

Leaders from dioceses across Australia have ratified a raft of new child protection initiatives including the "Safe Ministry Check" for applicants, and a national registry of clergy.

The registry aims to stop offenders moving from diocese to diocese and will include details of any refusal by a bishop to ordain a person as a deacon or priest because of an "adverse risk assessment".

Other measures given the go ahead at the church's General Synod meeting in Fremantle include a nationwide code of conduct and a series of behavioural guidelines for clergy and church workers.

The Safe Ministry Check procedure, which dioceses will be expected to follow, includes a questionnaire which asks extensive queries of clergy and lay workers, including inquiries about sexual and criminal history.

Parishes all over Australia will also be asked to embrace the code of conduct and behavioural guidelines, which include advising against being alone with children or driving children home unaccompanied.

The changes come as a Victorian Anglican priest, the Reverend John Crump, 58, was suspended after being arrested in relation to possession of child pornography.

Church leaders at the forefront of the initiative described yesterday's decision as monumentally significant.

Garth Blake, SC, chairman of the church's child protection committee, said the initiatives would go a long way towards restoring the public's trust in the Anglican church.

"It is the first step in rebuilding trust for the victims, the members of the church and the community. It is only the first step, but it is a very big one," Mr Blake said.

"There will obviously need to be a training program so people understand what is in the code and how to apply the screening tools.

"It will help victims because it will make our church a safer place. What they (victims) want is to ensure that what happened to them does not happen to others."

In his address to the synod on Saturday, Anglican Primate Archbishop Peter Carnley said child protection was the most important issue on the church's agenda.

Following a two-hour debate, the Synod voted unanimously to adopt the measures, the first of a series of controversial motions before the gathering this week.

The synod is due to discuss the issue of the ordination of female bishops today, and later in the week will debate the controversy surrounding the Anglican Church's attitude towards homosexuals.

The Reverend Dr Bruce Kaye, the general secretary of the General Synod, said he was delighted the church had decided to take a clear and unequivocal stand on the issue of child abuse, particularly in the current climate.

"It is a clear sign that the church is committed nationally to addressing the problems of abuse in the past," Dr Kaye said.

"It also signals that the church is completely committed to become a safe place for children and the vulnerable."