The Meeting of Safeguarding Professionals with Pope Benedict XVI

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Interview with Bill Kilgallon – Chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC)

When we knew that the Pope was visiting England and Wales, we suggested to him that he meet people who were involved in safeguarding within the Church because we knew that this was a high priority for him.

The meeting took place at St Peter’s Residence, Vauxhall on Saturday 18 September. It was attended by Archbishop Vincent Nichols; Cardinal Keith O’Brien, myself [Bill Kilgallon as Chair of the NCSC], a parish representative, a Diocesan Safeguarding Officer, the Chair of a Diocesan Commission, one of the Vice Chairs of the National Commission representing the Religious and the Director of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) and two Safeguarding Representatives from Scotland.

Key points from the meeting with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:

Our approach in England and Wales is that safeguarding flows from the gospel. A culture of safeguarding enables people to have a fulfilled life in Christ in the Church based on trust and that’s particularly important for children and for vulnerable adults.

We explained the system in England and Wales:

That each parish has a representative – a volunteer, a lay person – who takes responsibility for implementing safeguarding practice in the parish.

Within each diocese, there is a Safeguarding Officer – sometimes more than one – who is usually professionally qualified. Each diocese has a Safeguarding Commission made up of people drawn from relevant professions such as the police; the probation services, social services, health and the law. The Commission has an Independent Chair. Religious Orders have similar structures.

Nationally, we have the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) Commission with the job of setting the safeguarding policies of the Church and monitoring compliance. The Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) is the Church’s national office with people who are experts in safeguarding, training and development.

In England and Wales, the policies and procedures apply to the whole Church, not just to the dioceses, but also to religious orders. The NCSC is mandated by the Conference of Bishops and the Conference of Religious. This is a very important feature of the approach that we take in England and Wales. The presence of my colleague, Sr Jane Bertelsen FMDM, Vice Chair of NCSC at the meeting highlights the English and Welsh one Church approach.

We report all allegations to the police or social services; depending on the nature of the allegations. We work in co-operation with the statutory authorities throughout the procedure – this brings a clear element of independence into the whole process.

We invest time and energy in promoting safeguarding and training people. We have very robust selection processes to try and ensure that people who are working in the Church, whether in full-time ministry or as volunteers, are appropriately vetted before they work with children and with vulnerable adults.

The Pope spoke very warmly of the work that we are doing and he was very interested in our key principles:

  • Independence at every stage – involvement of independent people

  • The bringing in of professional expertise

  • Close co-operation with the police and statutory authorities

He was extremely positive about the work that we are doing.

During the course of the Papal Visit, the Holy Father spoke three times about abuse within the Church:

In the plane to journalists

In his homily at the Westminster Cathedral Mass

At Oscott College, in his final address to the Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales

On each occasion, the Holy Father said that the Church must respond better to those who are victims of abuse – that is the challenge for the Church in England and Wales. We’ve done well on the policies and procedures; we’ve done well on the structures that we’ve set up – although there is never any room for complacency because we always need a culture of vigilance – but we need to look for improvement in our response to survivors of abuse. That’s a determination of our Commission to increase the dialogue with survivors; the conversation has already started, but it needs to receive more focus.

Next Steps

Our policies and procedures could not necessarily be transferred to other countries because the legal system is often very different. The principles which could be applied elsewhere are the partnerships with statutory authorities and the need for independent people being involved at every stage – this is a particular strength in England and Wales. In many countries, these matters have been dealt with internally within the Church and that has led quite rightly to severe criticism; that the Church was not being open and was covering up and this angers people almost as much as the abuse.

The Holy Father met people who had experienced abuse and he heard from them directly about their experience and about the impact that it has had on their lives. He thanked us for arranging that meeting and said that it had been a moving experience.

Holy Father’s Address to Safeguarding Professionals


The Meeting of Safeguarding Professionals with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father is seated with (left to right) Chair of the NCSC Mr Bill Kilgallon, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, and others.