A complaint by a Bellingen man has persuaded the Anglican Diocese of Grafton to change posters in all of its churches and halls from Tweed Heads down to Port Macquarie.
Attending St Margaret's hall to vote in the state election in March, Geoff Richardson saw a sign advising that people with knowledge of sexual abuse or misconduct in the church should contact the diocese's Director of Professional Standards.
"I immediately noted it failed to mention contacting the police," Geoff said. "Sexual assault is a crime and as such should be, in the first instance, reported to the police."
After phoning to express his concern and receiving a positive reaction, he was disappointed to see the same notice still on display four months later when he attended a concert in the hall for the Winter Music Festival.
So he removed their sign and put his own version in its place, emailing the diocese office in Grafton to tell them why.
What concerned him, he said, was that a situation in which the church may be seen to be attempting to intercept complaints before they are reported to the police had been allowed to continue.
"The most enlightening revelation from the recent Royal Commission was not the scale of sexual abuse in the church itself, but the coordinated and systemic coverup of these acts by church authorities," Geoff said in his email.
"In my opinion, the sign as posted currently could be seen as an attempt to funnel victims and informants through the church so that damage to the church can be ameliorated, possibly at the expense of a just outcome for the victim."
St Margaret's were instructed to remove Geoff's new sign, but told him the bishop was being consulted about the matter.
The Courier-Sun emailed the bishop's office and promptly received the following reply from Chris Nelson, registrar of the Anglican Diocese of Grafton:
"I can advise that Mr Richardson's ideas were considered yesterday and a new version of the poster has been approved. A copy of the new poster is attached. Once this is signed by the Bishop and me, copies will be laminated and distributed for display in Anglican churches and church halls across the area of the Diocese (Tweed Heads to Port Macquarie)."
The poster now reads:
"Do you know of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct in the church?
"The Anglican Diocese of Grafton takes all allegations of misconduct and abuse seriously and the Diocese has Professional Standards protocols to handle complaints of misconduct, including reporting crimes to Police.
"Sexual abuse and assault are serious crimes and are to be reported to the Police. If you have a report of sexual abuse or assault, we encourage you to report this to Police.
"Should you need assistance with reporting your allegations, there are support services available and you may contact the Director of Professional Standards. The Director can assist with understanding how to make reports, find support, and receive reports of non-criminal sexual misconduct.
"Please phone 1800 370 757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
"Your contact with the Director of Professional Standards will be treated with confidentiality."
Geoff said he was pleased to see that the new version of the notice makes specific mention of the police three times.
"It's unfortunate that it has taken four months and my agitation and enquiries by the paper to achieve this outcome but I suppose it took a $300 million Royal Commission to shine a light on 100+ years of abuse so this was relatively quick by comparison.
"To give them their due, I think the church wants to do the right thing but especially after the revelations of cover up in the Royal Commission it should be making every effort to not only do the right thing but to be seen to be doing so."