Inquiry finds Catholic authorities placed preservation of their reputation ahead of dealing with child sex abuse

November 11, 2020

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) yesterday published its report into how Catholic authorities in England and Wales have dealt with child sexual abuse and offered a range of damning conclusions. The latest report comprises part of a group of investigations into the extent to which faith groups have protected children from sexual abuse and follows publication last month of its examination into the Church of England and the Church in Wales.

Yesterday’s report finds that child sexual abuse was historically “swept under the carpet” by domestic Catholic authorities, with their response to disclosures about abuse having been characterised by a failure to support victims and survivors and, in stark contrast, positive action taken to protect alleged perpetrators and the reputation of the Church. The report accuses Church authorities of having “betrayed their moral purpose” and is highly critical of its leadership.

It finds that in recent years senior leaders have been resistant to external oversight and only partially implemented the recommendations of previous reviews into dealing with sexual abuse. It criticises the performance during a 2018 Inquiry hearing of the most senior Catholic leader in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who it describes as “at times preferring to protect the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Rome” than showing due care about the impact of child sexual abuse on victims and survivors.

The Inquiry further criticises the Holy See’s lack of cooperation with its work, including for only providing “very limited” information in response to its enquiries and for refusing to provide it with a witness statement. It concluded that the Holy See’s responses appeared at odds with a public pronouncement from Pope Francis for “concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church” regarding child sexual abuse and that its limited responses “manifestly did not demonstrate a commitment to taking action.”

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry, said “The Inquiry’s report highlights yet again how faith-based organisations attach greater importance to the reputation of their institution above their moral duty to safeguard the vulnerable, and attempt to cover up those distressing instances when they have failed to do so. IICSA’s work must be used as a springboard to ensure that activities involving vulnerable people, including children, are open to greater scrutiny and regulation by those properly qualified and experienced to do so.”

“Following on from this, the Government should seize the opportunity to fulfil its long stated ambition to ensure that public agencies are given adequate powers to deal with illegally unregistered schools. Many of these are faith based and deliberately flout curriculum and safety regulations.”

“Much has been said at the highest level about the importance of inclusive education and its role in building a society that encourages open and tolerant acceptance. The rights of religious organisations have for too long been allowed to weigh more in the balance than the rights of children and young people to a safe and balanced education. IICSA have again highlighted what can and does go wrong when this is so. It is time to set right this egregious injustice.”
This school year sees an important step forward in the advancement of inclusivity and safeguarding with new regulations coming into effect requiring all secondary schools in England to provide Relationships and Sex Education and all primary schools in England to provide Relationships Education. Accord has long campaigned for the subjects to be made compulsory. The regulations cover all schools, including private ones and those which are faith based.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has statutory powers and was constituted in 2015 in response to serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse. The Inquiry’s report into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church comprises one of fifteen investigations it is currently pursuing.

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