The Independent Child Sex Abuse Inquiry’s verdict on lip service provision to tackle child sexual abuse
The CSA inquiry report into the Roman Catholic Church -published this week – and its handling of years of child sexual abuse makes very grim reading . It suggests that while the Church may have put in structures to deal with the issue there was no real compassionate commitment from the top of the Church to act.
In particular the report is scathing about Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, for his lack of compassion and the extraordinary failure of the former Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, to proffer even a statement to the inquiry. Instead he retired without saying a word.
This would suggest that neither Pope Francis nor the Cardinal – whatever words of contrition he made – are really bothered about the serious state of child sex abuse in the church in England and Wales.
3000 complaints of sexual abuse
And serious it is. The report says:
“Between 1970 and 2015, the Church received more than 3,000 complaints of child sexual abuse against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church. Those complaints involved over 1,750 victims and complainants. Civil claims against dioceses and religious institutes have resulted in millions of pounds being paid in compensation.
“Even so,the true scale of child sexual abuse is likely to be greater than these figures.” (my emphasis).
The Church’s attitude is in contrast to the Anglican Church – which while by no means perfect – does seem committed to change its ethos and culture. Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, seems more determined to take practical measures than Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Not that the Roman Catholic Church did not know it had a problem. Two reports -one by the late Lord Michael Nolan – who also was the founder chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life which investigated Westminster- and another by Baroness Cumberlege, a former health minister in John Major’s government -looked at the issue.
Both provided a framework to protect and safeguard children and adolescents from sexual abuse.
Lord Nolan’s thorough review
Lord Nolan made a thoroughly reviewed the situation, The inquiry said:
“His report, published in 2001, contained 83 recommendations applicable to the dioceses and religious institutes. At the heart of the Nolan report was the ‘One Church’ approach – a single set of principles, policies and practices across the Church that put the welfare of the child first.
“The first recommendation required the Church to “become an example of best practice in the prevention of child abuse and in responding to it”.
A body was set up to implement Nolan but it was not wholeheartedly done with some bishops opposing it and Baroness Cumberlege did another review in 2007. There were improvements but more needed to be done.
The report says:
“In May 2019, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “We humbly ask forgiveness … for our slowness and defensiveness and for our neglect of both preventative and restorative actions”.
“That slowness is exemplified by the Church’s failure to fully implement two of the Cumberlege Recommendations (one of which was 13 years overdue) and by its failure to establish the Safe Spaces joint project with the Anglican Church until September 2020. Six years have elapsed since this project was commenced and it seems little progress has been made to ensure that victims and survivors have access to the pastoral and therapeutic support that the Safe Spaces project was set up to provide.”
I suspect Safe Spaces was set up because the church knew they faced criticism by the inquiry.
The report details the most harrowing cases of sexual abuse.
As it says: “we heard appalling accounts of sexual abuse of children
perpetrated by clergy and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The sexual offending involved acts of masturbation, oral sex, vaginal rape and anal rape. On occasions, it was accompanied by sadistic beatings driven by sexual gratification, and often involved deeply manipulative behaviour by those in positions of trust, who were respected by parents and children alike.”
Examples include sexual crimes against children at Gilling Castle, a preparatory school for Ampleforth College; Downside School, Ealing Abbey St, Benedicts School in Ealing. Ampleforth College was particularly determined that these crimes should not exposed. Child sexual abuse at St. Benedicts was described the report as extensive.
Yet despite this harrowing evidence Cardinal Nichols did not show any compassion for the victims and survivors. The report says:
“”As the figurehead and the most senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Catholics look to Cardinal Nichols to lead by example. During the final public hearing in November 2018, he apologised for the Church’s failings, noting that this was a source of “great sorrow and shame for me and, indeed I know, for the Catholic Church”. But there was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change. Nor did he demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined.”
This is a terrible indictment of both the man and the organisation. The report makes seven recommendations ” covering leadership and oversight on safeguarding matters, a framework for dealing with cases of non-compliance with safeguarding policies and procedures, re-framing canonical crimes relating to child sexual abuse, reviewing policies and procedures, and also a complaints policy for safeguarding
My worry is that the Roman Catholic Church will still see a repeat of these problems even after receiving such a damning report. If the leadership is not there to get things changed, there will be no real progress.