Cops call for proper review into role of chaplains in NSW Police

Si Gladman / 26 April 2021

A survey of New South Wales police men and women into the effectiveness of religious chaplaincy in the state’s force has drawn criticism and been branded as “biased” in favour of chaplains.

The internal survey, which is open until Monday 3 May for police employees to complete, tells those filling it out that chaplains from the NSW Police Force Chaplaincy Unit are “integral to the welfare and wellbeing of police”.

In a preamble to the questions, it also argues that chaplains “make a significant contribution to our workplace, providing a positive influence and offering measured support and genuine help to all our people”.

A senior officer with more than 30 years of experience told the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) that a proper review should take place to examine the role of religious chaplaincy in the modern NSW Police.

“Obviously, the survey that is currently being conducted asserts a confirmation bias that chaplaincy is relevant to all police employees. It appears to be designed to support the belief that chaplaincy already holds a significant value and will endure for some time to come,” the officer said.

“As an atheist, I am annoyed on a weekly basis by a police chaplain who visits my police station to offer spiritual care. I haven’t seen a secular counsellor or therapist in any police station in the last 30 years of my employment.”

NSW Police Workforce Safety Command is leading the current review of chaplaincy services.

It says the review will assess how such services are received across the organisation and how the chaplaincy model can become “more relevant to our people in a modern-day 21st century organisation”.

The senior officer who spoke to the RSA on condition of anonymity said few police officers wanted to see religious chaplains at the scene of an emergency.

“The mission statement of chaplains includes the caveat that, at emergencies, their primary role is the care and welfare of police personnel. I can assure you, the last person that my colleagues and I want to see is an old man in police uniform with a Christian cross on his epaulette,” the officer said.

“Give us trained professionals to discuss any difficult issues, not a religious person with a shoulder for compassion, who has bigoted and single-minded views, and who enjoys a free pass to a crime scene.”

Senior NSW Police chaplain Father Paul O’Donoghue told the Catholic media recently that he viewed the roles of chaplains and police as being similar because “we both deal with evil, it’s as simple as that”.

Regarding the practice of chaplains attending every critical incident, he said the role of the chaplain was really to provide hope for the people involved.

“We are sending someone who is a sign of hope to those people who have fired a gun, been in a chase and somebody’s been killed and their world’s falling in on them,” he said.

“Sometimes I think to myself, ‘God I don’t know what the hell I’m meant to be doing here but can you please help me and give me the wisdom to know what to do in this situation’.”

Interested to find out more about religious discrimination in government-funded chaplaincy programs in schools, in hospitals and in the military? Register here for our webinar, being held on Wednesday 28 April 2021, with Associate Professor Luke Beck of Monash University as the guest speaker.

Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Photo by NSW Police (Facebook)

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