Company to hold Catholic groups to account

Rebekah Ison

Catholic priests could face serious penalties if they don't meet the mark set by a new professional standards body which will publicly name non-compliant dioceses and orders.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Monday heard Catholic Professional Standards Limited would audit the church's authorities, with a view to holding them to account by publishing reports online.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge thinks bishops should consider entering formal arrangements with priests so they could be stood aside or have their faculties removed if they repeatedly flout the new standards.

"These are serious sanctions - to stand a man aside or to remove his faculties - but given the seriousness of what we are discussing, they are measures that I would consider," he said on Monday.

The royal commission heard the professional standards company wouldn't have disciplinary powers and its "teeth" would be the publication of audit reports.

But counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, questioned whether restriction clauses allowing the board to limit publication to protect church "contacts", or if information was deemed confusing or misleading, were too broad.

Former Supreme Court judge and Truth, Justice and Healing Council chair Neville Owen says public reporting was meant to be the norm and the company - announced in November - was in its "embryonic" stages.

Archbishop Coleridge said he thought it was one of numerous parts of the new company that needed improvement,

He said the church needed a cultural shift - not just a change in protocols and procedures.

"If that doesn't lead to cultural change, the danger is that we go round and round and round," he said.

"And the appalling prospect is that we could end up where we started."

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia and other groups will be members of the not-for-profit professional standards company limited by guarantee.

The royal commission's final hearing into the Catholic Church is expected to continue on Tuesday.