A damning indictment on the uncompassionate Roman Catholic Church

Cardinal Vincent Nichols: Pic credit: Twitter

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.”

sexual crimes

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.”

terrible indictment

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
cases.”

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.

How a Roman Catholic paedophile priest who mixed with celebs nearly escaped justice

Father Anthony McSweeney

Father Anthony McSweeney; Nearly escaped justice Pic Credit: BBC

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One of the successes of the Met Police investigation into the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes was the arrest and conviction of a Roman Catholic priest Anthony McSweeney who was jailed for three years  in 2015 for sexually abusing a teenager and making indecent images of children.

The inquiry into Elm Guest House led the police to focus on a Richmond  Council children’s home – long since closed – called Grafton Close which at the time was run by a friend of the priest, John Stingemore, who would have been tried alongside him at Southwark Crown Court if he had not died just before the trial.

The allegation that boys were taken by Stingemore to Elm Guest House were never tested in court – though the CPS agreed a charge should be made – because of Stingemore’s death.

But the court heard that McSweeney and Stingemore did take boys away to a flat in Bexhill on sea where they were sexually assaulted. And when McSweeney was arrested   pornographic pictures of children were found on his computer.

Until then Anthony McSweeney had escaped his crimes that took place between 1979 to 1981 and if it had not been for Operation Fernbridge he would still be a popular priest a director of a  Catholic school in Norwich, helping with Norwich City  football youth team and local boxing clubs.

He  was held in high esteem and mixed with some of the great and good. He married the boxer, Frank Bruno and Delia Smith, the celebrity cook and supporter of Norwich City, once asked to arrange a special football service for the club.

But his secret activities could have been stopped nearly 20 years earlier when it was discovered while he was working as a priest in Harlow and Leigh on Sea, Essex, that had a stash of pornographic videos. His cleaner discovered his stash of sex toys, truncheons and pornographic videos at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Instead in 1998 the Roman Catholic Church quietly transfered him to another parish, St George’s church in Norwich.

Now an independent review undertaken by the Dioceses of East Anglia and Brentwood in the wake of his conviction has revealed serious lapses in the whole way the Church handled the discovery in 1998.

In a statement the two dioceses say:

 The Church should have taken more robust action following the discovery of video tapes in 1998, later referred to in Anthony McSweeney’s trial, and should have ensured that the matter was reported to the police so that a full investigation could have taken place.

 Local priests and parishioners were not adequately supported, their concerns were not taken sufficiently seriously, nor acted upon diligently;

 Anthony McSweeney’s subsequent transfer to East Anglia, as outlined above, was poorly managed, lacked insight and was not adequately documented.

The Church defends it behaviour by saying:

“At the time of these events awareness of the need for child protection was in its infancy. The national safeguarding procedures and processes put in place since 2001 would now ensure that such a matter would immediately be passed on to the police, via the Safeguarding Coordinator. Now over 95% of parishes have at least one Safeguarding Representative whose task it is to ensure that the concerns of the local clergy and parishioners are taken seriously, and to refer those concerns to the Diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator.”

However it is clear that the review is not satisfied even today as it recommends the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission:

 To review and clarify the existing policy about priests transferring from one diocese to another to ensure consistency and transparency in the process in all the dioceses in England and Wales, and in particular, to ensure that any issues to do with safeguarding are resolved before any such move can take place;

 To issue clear guidelines for managing cases potentially involving indecent images;

 To review the existing “whistleblowing” policy

The Church is refusing to publish the report or even name the author who prepared it on the grounds it was an ” internal report”.

Yet it highlights one of the major perennial problems in tackling child sexual abuse – the decision by authorities to sweep scandals under the carpet – and quietly transfer the person to a new post elsewhere. Not only is this irresponsible but its is dangerous as it puts more children at risk just to preserve the reputation of the organisation.

This a good case  to be referred to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – either under its Roman Catholic investigation – or the part of the inquiry that will examine safeguarding. Alexis Jay, the chair, should seek out this report as it will help explain in detail what went wrong here and how it can be tackled in future. Otherwise valuable lessons could be missed and the Roman Catholic church will once again have to be taken on trust that it doing the right thing.