All allegations of abuse reported to the Church in England and Wales are immediately passed on to the police. The Church works closely and cooperatively with the statutory authorities as these allegations are investigated. Following this investigation, which follows UK law, the Church conducts its own internal investigation, following Canon Law.
The safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults is at the heart of the Church’s mission. There is no place in the Church, or indeed society, for abuse – a grievous crime which can affect people for their entire lives.
Victims come first. This has not always been the case. The Church deeply regrets all instances of sexual abuse and the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, and accepts that grave mistakes were made in the past.
After years of addressing these issues, the Church is looking forward to assisting the historical Inquiry into child abuse, led by Justice Lowell Goddard, in any way possible and learning from its findings and recommendations.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told English and Welsh Bishops during his UK visit in September 2010:
“Your growing awareness of the extent of child abuse in society, its devastating effects, and the need to provide proper victim support should serve as an incentive to share the lessons you have learned with the wider community.”
Today, the safeguarding of children and the vulnerable is a Church priority from the top down, and there will be no place to hide for offenders.
In December 2013, Pope Francis, who has declared there should be “zero tolerance” of abuse, established a Vatican commission on the protection of minors. Last year, the Holy Father said that he wants to encourage and promote the Church’s commitment to protection and care “at every level — episcopal conferences, dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life — to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and to respond to their needs with fairness and mercy”. The remarks reflected a considerable journey for the Catholic Church in England and Wales when it comes to safeguarding.
In September 2000, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then Archbishop of Westminster, requested that Lord Nolan independently investigate abuse allegations. A year later, the 23 dioceses accepted all 83 recommendations of the Nolan report. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, then Archbishop of Birmingham, was appointed chair of the report’s implementation team, which established the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults [COPCA].
In July 2007, a further review by Baroness Julia Cumberlege – ‘Safeguarding with Confidence’ – found that some 79 of Lord Nolan’s recommendations had been addressed, with 55,000 Criminal Records Bureau disclosures completed on clergy and other staff from 2003-2006, and more than 85% of the 2,400 Catholic parishes in England and Wales appointing local child protection representatives.
Following the Cumberlege report, the Church established two bodies. First, the independent National Catholic Safeguarding Commission [NCSC], which is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the Church’s safeguarding policy for children and vulnerable adults, and for monitoring compliance.
The NCSC directs the work of a second unit set up in the wake of Cumberlege, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service [CSAS], which was established to implement improvement in practice.
CSAS has in recent years completed safeguarding audits of all dioceses in England and Wales, overseen by the NCSC.
Last year’s annual report of the NCSC approved the setting up of a Survivors Advisory Panel to help inform the work of the NCSC and the safeguarding policies and practices within the Church. It also found that now over 95% of parishes in England and Wales have at least one safeguarding representative.
Today, the Church has a robust selection procedure for candidates to the priesthood and their training includes child and adult protection. Meanwhile, the Church encourages victims of abuse to come forward and supports them to do so.
Christopher Pearson, NCSC Chair, says: “The harm, damage and impact of abuse on victims and their family is immense. That is why we want victims and survivors to be at the heart of what we do as a Safeguarding Commission…Can we say it can never happen again? No, but we can say the likelihood is less than it was, and that by encouraging people to report abuse, it makes it easier to do so.”
Looking ahead, a working party on pastoral support for survivors is proposing a model of support for victims and survivors to be implemented across all dioceses and Religious Communities.
Sr Lyndsay Spendelow, the Religious Vice Chair of the NCSC, emphasises a ‘One Church’ approach. “More people today are probably aware of the NCSC,” Sr Lindsay says. “Religious are well represented on NCSC and the Conference of Religious also has its own support and communication structures to assist the Congregational Leaders to keep up to date with safeguarding requirements and developments. In the past year or so, together with CSAS, there has been great emphasis on strengthening and developing a One Church approach to Safeguarding.”
The Director of CSAS, Colette Limbrick, adds:
“The Church’s approach to safeguarding children, young people and adults at risk has developed considerably since the publication of the Nolan Report in 2001. Safeguarding structures at national and local levels work to ensure that as safe an environment as possible is created for children and adults taking part in the life of the Church…However, there is no room for complacency and we must continue to improve; in particular we must ensure that the needs of the victims and survivors of abuse always come first and that we provide a more sensitive and pastoral response which truly places the needs of victim or survivor at the heart of our work.”
Finally, returning to the theme of the Church using its experiences to help wider society, Bishop Marcus Stock, the Vice Chair of the NCSC, says:
“Given the experiences of the Church and its considerable and important work in this area, we look forward to working with Justice Goddard in her Inquiry.”
National Catholic Safeguarding Commission
Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service
Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse