Chapter 2 - To establish the truth of what happened in the past
The truth of harm
2.1 There is no doubt that abuse of the most serious kind has taken place within the Catholic Church in Scotland. If there were ever a time when it might have been possible to deny that fact, that time has passed. The most well publicised cases of abuse have involved priests and children, but abuse has also been perpetrated within the Catholic Church by those who are not priests and it is not only children who have suffered abuse.
2.2 Figures released by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland showed 46 allegations of abuse between 2006 and 2012. More than half of these involved sex abuse claims. Seven of these resulted in prosecution. When these figures were published, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, said:
“We recognise the trauma and pain that survivors of abuse have suffered and we are committed to providing for them both justice and healing.”
(Daily Record, 26 November 2013)
2.3 In 2013 a further 15 allegations were made, six of which were “historical” (relating to events before 1990). As a result, three individuals were removed from ministry, and two other cases are, at the time of writing this Report, with the Procurator Fiscal.
2.4 It can be very difficult for people who have been abused to report the matter. They feel ashamed; they may feel they are to blame and they feel disloyal and disobedient. Often the abuse will have been kept secret from even the closest family and friends and there can be a strong desire not to bring hurt or shame (as it is perceived) to them. Many years can pass before some who have suffered abuse are able to report it. People now may be more able to report abuse within the Catholic Church in Scotland for at least four reasons:
i) The reporting of abuse by others encourages them.
ii) The investigation and reporting of similar cases by journalists and broadcasters help them to feel they are not alone.
iii) There is an increasing realisation that abuse has occurred in other institutions and that those who have reported it have been believed.
iv) The Catholic Church worldwide has acknowledged the evil of abuse within it and has promised to give primacy to the needs of those who have been abused.
2.5 Every Bishop who gave evidence to the Commission acknowledged that serious abuse has taken place within the Catholic Church in Scotland. When the Commission met parish priests, the evidence was the same as it was in parishes across the country that were visited by members of the Commission.
2.6 The best evidence for the reality of the abuse which has taken place was given to the Commission by survivors of abuse themselves. The details of evidence provided by individual survivors is confidential, but it repeatedly pointed to treatment of vulnerable people by those with power of such a scale as to do damage to those who experienced it. This damage is almost unimaginable to those who know nothing of these matters.
2.7 Facing honestly the fact of abuse within the Church is a necessary prerequisite without which the Church will be unable to move on, to reform or to look to the future with hope. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was gravely concerned early in 2014 that the Holy See had not yet acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed within the Church nor taken the measures they deemed necessary to address the abuse and protect children.
2.8 When Professor Alexis Jay gave evidence to the Commission after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, which she chaired, she said:
Senior managers greatly underestimated the scale and seriousness of what was happening.
2.9 As a result of this underestimation, what should have been done was not done. The Catholic Church will respond best to what has happened within it if it does not make the same mistake.
2.10 In the homily of Pope Francis quoted in the Preface to this Report he referred to the Gospel of Matthew (18.6):
If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks!
2.11 The Greek root of “stumbling-block” is “skandalon”. Today, “scandal” has come to be associated with sensational media exposure. In its original meaning, and the way it is used theologically, it means causing someone to stumble in their faith. Pope Francis acknowledged that “sins of clerical abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.” It is in this sense that they have truly caused “scandal.”
2.12 The Catholic Church has been accused of covering up its knowledge of clerical abuse in order to protect the reputation of the Church, perhaps to avoid “scandal” in the common sense. But in doing so, it has caused scandal in a theological sense both to the victims of abuse for whom justice and truth were denied, and to the wider Catholic population. St Thomas Aquinas quoted with approval the words of Pope St Gregory I:
If people are scandalised at the truth, it is better to allow the birth of scandal, than to abandon the truth.
Harm to survivors
2.13 The harm done to survivors is enormous: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
2.14 By no means all abuse is sexual abuse. The Catholic Church in Scotland’s own policy document, “Awareness and Safety” names and defines four categories of abuse: physical injury, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and physical neglect. All of these kinds of abuse can have physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual consequences.
2.15 It has often been observed that many survivors of abuse find it very difficult to talk about what has happened to them. This can be because they feel ashamed of what has happened, or they are afraid of what will happen if they do speak, or because attempting to tell will make the shock and pain present again in a way that is almost unbearable. Moreover most people who are not survivors of abuse find it difficult to hear about such experiences: the cruelty and heartlessness are beyond the experience of most people. To illustrate this point the Chief Executive of Children 1st, Alison Todd, told the Commission:
“We’ve got an adults survivors group. They just came to talk to us at the Board, and how they set the group up. They’ve worked through the issues, but on the day they presented and were sharing their experiences you couldn’t help but be impacted by what the abuse had done to their lives. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room”.
2.16 Unless there is recognition of the terrible pain endured by each survivor of abuse there will be no healing for the individual and no opportunity for the Church to move on. Despite a lifetime’s experience of pastoral work and pastoral care, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, told the Commission how difficult he found it was to come to terms with the things he heard and that had happened in the Church he loves when he was required to examine, in some depth, the experience of those who had been abused. For example, one survivor said:
“When I was eight years old I was regularly locked in a darkened room by the nun who was my carer and told I was being punished because no-one loved me. The same nun sexually abused me. I told the priest in confession, the priest told the nun and together they raped me. I was still only eight years old” (ML1).
2.17 Given that it was not the remit of the Commission to investigate or adjudicate on current or historical allegations, it is recognised that the information we have been provided with has not been subject to testing for its veracity or reliability. The information was freely offered, not compelled or required. It has been accepted in good faith as the lived experience of those who gave it.
2.18 No point was made more consistently to the Commission by survivors than their sense that they had not been listened to and not believed. Tam Baillie, the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, told the Commission that listening to children and young people and believing them was “absolutely key“. He told the Commission that this was a recurrent feature in the findings of recent Inquiries.
2.19 Several survivors expressed the view that they had felt dismissed because of their current or past state of health. This included reference to mental health difficulties; drug or alcohol problems; relationship difficulties and family breakdown. There appeared to be little recognition of the possibility or probability of these features of their lives being the outcomes of abuse suffered. Several respondents talked about feeling denigrated by the responses they received when trying to engage with the Church. Many spoke of feeling blamed for the abuse, feeling that their own reputation or character had been brought into disrepute in an attempt to either justify or explain the abuse. This served to contribute to and compound the original abuse experience. An example of this included televised comments by Bishop Mario Conti, (BBC ‘Frontline Scotland’, 3 February, 1998), in relation to the character of children who had been looked after and accommodated (ML1, ML2).
2.20 The psychological harm done by abuse can take the form of guilt and self-loathing. Children come to believe, or are explicitly told, that what is happening to them is their own fault and so they must not tell anyone about it. In particular, that sense prevents any communication of the abuse to parents, often because a child is afraid. Exactly the same consequences were seen by the Rotherham Inquiry:
People were discarded and filled with self-loathing.
2.21 It could be argued that spiritual damage occurs when survivors come to think of their abuse as a punishment from God. All of the authority of the Church appears to survivors to be on the side of the abuser. For many survivors it becomes impossible to continue any trust in God. For those who do continue in faith, such faith is almost never bright, life-enhancing, liberating or hopeful.
2.22 The most striking testimony of survivors was the almost universal experience of being left alone. There were so few words or actions which could be described as the Church reaching out or the Church showing compassion. One survivor said:
“When, years later, one nun took my hand and said “I’m sorry for what happened to you” that was the closest the Church ever came to reaching out and showing me compassion” (ML1).
2.23 Another told us:
“There seems to be no recognition of the devastating effect on my whole life of what was done to me. I’ve never felt any compassion” (ML21).
2.24 Martin Henry (Stop it Now! Scotland), from his previous experience as a safeguarding co-ordinator, told the Commission that:
“The processes lack compassion”.
2.25 Other survivors who made several unsuccessful attempts to raise safeguarding issues with the Church, told the Commission that:
“No-one has ever asked ‘what would help?” (ML11, 22).
Secrecy and cover-up
2.26 Nor is there any doubt that a culture of secrecy and cover-up allowed this abuse to remain hidden for many years. In all of the meetings which the Commission had with representatives of the Catholic Church in Scotland this was not denied. Bishops, priests, safeguarding advisors and members of parishes all agreed that a culture of secrecy had been a very significant part of the response of the Church to allegations of abuse. Representatives of one diocese told the Commission:
“We feel total shame with regard to past cover-up. There must be no question of cover-up in the future”.
2.27 In all the meetings we had with bishops, priests, representatives of religious congregations and parishes the same point was made. No one suggested to the Commission that the Church’s position on abuse had been open and transparent. Repeatedly the explanation given was that the Church’s default position had been to seek to protect the institution and to seek to protect priests, before seeking to meet the needs of those abused.
2.28 Alison Todd, the Chief Executive of Children1st, emphasised to the Commission the essential need for:
“Openness and engagement with other people in the sector, not being defensive about it. That’s hard with the culture in Scotland. We have a media here that when you admit you’ve made a mistake, won’t be kind. But we have to encourage people to say this is what’s happened, and now we’re moving on”.
2.29 Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, speaking of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, told the Commission:
“Not only the culture of the Church, but even aspects of canon law may have led to the protection of priests”.
2.30 “Cover-up” and “culture of secrecy” were words repeatedly on the lips of survivors, and some of the most persuasive testimony in this area came from them. The Commission heard over and over again that many survivors had felt themselves excluded from the process of the investigation of their complaints; that they were not told what the process was and that they were never told what decisions had been made about the person whose abuse they had reported. Whether or not this is still happening, despite steps taken to be open and transparent, some parishioners still believe that the culture of secrecy exists. One survivor said she had written to the Bishop of the diocese in which she lived and in which she was abused:
“In the past when your organisation has not responded to my questions, or taken months/years to answer, I have felt confused, angry, despairing and hopeless, as it seems that I am not being heard and that I don’t matter” (ML21).
2.31 Several examples were offered to the Commission of priests being removed from ministry for a time to undergo treatment and risk assessment, but then being returned to ministry. The distress caused by the discovery of an abusive priest in public ministry is manifold. Survivors described feeling shocked, disorientated and betrayed (ML3, ML4). Some respondents articulated feelings of bewilderment that, with the existence of risk assessments, which suggest the need for restriction on activities and close supervision, a priest could be allowed to minister in public. The notion of a priest as someone who offers spiritual leadership appears incompatible with such a risk assessment (ML21).
2.32 In the past, when a Scottish Catholic priest was involved in a case of abuse, there were times when such a priest would be quietly moved to another parish or sent to some other kind of work or given a period of counselling. Such secretive procedures are less likely to happen today. However, there is no doubt that in the visits made by members of the Commission to parishes they met people who believe that the procedures which operate now are still procedures which contain elements giving priority to protecting the institution and protecting priests.
2.33 Without exception, however, such a culture of secrecy and cover-up was condemned by all, and everywhere the Commission met clear determination that such a culture should be eliminated from the Church. Archbishop Tartaglia told the Commission:
“As the reality of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults has been more and more uncovered in society and in the Church, and as safeguarding has become more embedded in the mindset and action of Catholic communities, tendencies to deny, make excuses, protect or cover up, while not yet eradicated, are gradually being seen as indefensible and will eventually be defeated”.
2.34 Martin Henry, the National Manager of Stop it Now! Scotland understood the need for confidentiality, but was not sure if the Church has handled this efficiently and has ended up looking like they are trying to hide things:
“The past history will take a long time to shake off”.
2.35 One aspect of a “culture of secrecy” which was drawn to the attention of the Commission by several priests is the circumstances relating to Cardinal Keith O’Brien. It was not long before this Commission was set up that the circumstances of his resignation were made public. The Catholic Church in Scotland has rarely been the subject of such intense and sustained media scrutiny. The eminent historian, Professor Tom Devine, himself a Catholic, said at the time:
“This is probably the gravest single public crisis to hit the Catholic Church in Scotland since the Reformation and its effects in the short term are incalculable.” (Daily Telegraph, 25 February, 2013)
2.36 Yet the Church itself said almost nothing about safeguarding at the time of the Cardinal’s resignation in February 2013. The Church did not give an open and transparent account of what had happened and why to the Catholic faithful or to the people of Scotland.
2.37 Some priests in the diocese where Cardinal O’Brien had been Archbishop told the Commission that they had been “left in the dark”. In particular it was argued by them that the whole affair raised two issues for the Commission. One comment was specifically about the commitment of the Catholic Church to safeguarding, in a situation in which power may have been used in an abusive way:
“Has the Vatican taken seriously policies about safeguarding in the way it has dealt with Cardinal O’Brien? A priest would have been dealt with differently”.
2.38 The other issue was of a continuing culture of secrecy:
“Our Church is in a state of denial. At no point has there been a narrative given by the Church to tell what has happened”.
2.39 Having said that, the Bishops maintain that it was not a culture of secrecy that hampered them from making a more open response in this case. The Commission recognises that at that time the Bishops were not in possession of the full facts of the case. Regarding any information that they did possess, they were bound to respect confidentiality, both that of the accusers and that demanded by civil and canonical requirements. Subsequently, they were further hampered by the unique position of a Cardinal in the Catholic Church: a Cardinal can only be judged by the Pope and the investigation into the Cardinal’s behavior was undertaken by Bishop Charles Scicluna, at the behest of Pope Francis.
2.40 When the Commission visited parishes in different parts of Scotland, it was said regularly that the clerical leadership missed opportunities to redefine their pivotal roles in reviewing policy development and practice following Pope Francis’ homily on the paramountcy of safeguarding within the Church. Similar opportunities, it was felt, were also not capitalised on, for example the setting up of this Commission and the negative impacts of further allegations of abuse through the media in Scotland. These should have acted as a spur to progress and an opportunity to reinforce key messages from the Catholic Church in Scotland to the church communities and beyond.
2.41 A senior social worker told the Commission that the Catholic Church was no worse than other big institutions in its reluctance to engage with the authorities. But the Commission believes that it should be better because (a) the Catholic Church in other countries has become better; (b) Pope Francis has told the Church to get better; (c) its shame is very public; and (d) its calling is to protect the weak.
2.42 Despite the abuse, and despite statements about change, the Catholic Church in Scotland has not made significant structural changes in terms of embedding safeguarding in the ministry and theology of the Church in the last ten years.
2.43 The appointment of this Commission has been a significant step. Archbishop Tartaglia, announcing the Commission, said it was being “launched in a spirit of openness and transparency”. But that in itself does not change anything. Change may occur as a result of the work of the Commission, or it may not. But credit is due to the Bishops’ Conference for asking an independent body under an independent chairman to carry out this review. It is at least a sign of a desire to put words into action.
2.44 The Commission was appointed in the wake of the emerging story of Fort Augustus and abuse of pupils in that school in the sixties and seventies. On television the day the story broke, Bishop Hugh Gilbert said:
“All that can be done should be done for the victims” (4 August, 2013).
2.45 That was well said and gave hope to survivors. However, despite serious efforts on the part of the Church authorities involved, it seems to the Commission, from the evidence of survivors, that there was a shortfall in actual provision of help.
2.46 One very clear problem with the Fort Augustus story is the complexity of the relationship between the religious congregation of which the school was a part and the diocesan structure of the Church. This problem made it peculiarly difficult to establish responsibility for what happened in the school. Despite the seriousness of this vagueness of relationship, nothing structural has changed, although there has been real improvement in the working relationships between religious congregations and diocesan authorities.
2.47 There has been very little change in the safeguarding work of the Church since the key policy and practice manual “Awareness and Safety in our Catholic Communities” was produced in 2007. The foreword states:
These policies and procedures are evidence of the enduring commitment of the Bishops in Scotland to develop and maintain high quality safeguarding practice for all those who are involved in the life of the Church.
2.48 Since 2007 there has been a great deal of public concern about safeguarding within the Catholic Church and a great deal of concern within the Church itself; moreover there have been many important studies and guidelines for best practice published since 2007. “Awareness and Safety” has had some minor modifications in that time, but in its content and in its policies and its practices it remains largely unchanged since its first publication.
2.49 It may be that the establishment of this Commission has actually delayed change in “Awareness and Safety”. The Commission has been told, by the National Coordinator that a decision was taken in 2013 to delay significant change until lessons could be learned from our work.
2.50 There have been some improvements in that time. The training of seminarians is much better than it was with regard to safeguarding. The experience of two priests the Commission spoke to, one recently trained and the other trained thirty years ago, showed striking improvement. All allegations are now reported to the authorities; but much remains to be done. Cultural change does not happen quickly, and some of those who came to the Commission spoke of a culture of adolescent machismo still in existence (ML10).
2.51 There are some important gaps in “Awareness and Safety”. Very little is said about the role of Bishops, although their role is crucial in implementing safeguarding policies and practices. There is no provision for the training of Bishops. Nothing is said about the qualifications, training, selection terms and conditions of diocesan advisors. Very little is said about priests against whom an allegation of abuse is made.
2.52 Nowhere in “Awareness and Safety” is there any detail of minimum expectations for quality assurance. While there is provision in the diocesan audits to check whether training is being done, there is a need to follow this up to ensure consistency of practice. There is no reference to people with additional support needs.
2.53 With regard to the status of “Awareness and Safety”, not all Bishops agree that the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has the authority to lay down policies, practice and procedures that must be followed in every diocese. Clarity on this issue is essential. Just because Bishops don’t have to do something doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do it.
2.54 Despite many encouraging words about the importance of safeguarding, there are clearly still parishes in which commitment to safeguarding is still resisted because of complacency and lack of interest. The priest in one parish had not prepared for our visit and, despite a reminder the day before, said he had forgotten we were coming and had not mentioned the visit to his parishioners. The priest had not had a safeguarding coordinator in place for over a year and was consequently receiving assistance from the diocesan safeguarding office to complete the national audit. He was vague about the PVG status of volunteers within the parish. He was also vague about attendance at training and refresher courses and generally appeared uninterested in safeguarding as an issue. The only element of safeguarding he appeared to apply within his parish was not to be on his own when approached for help, for example if someone turned up at his door in the middle of the night.
2.55 In such cases, parishioners will not be aware of how to report concerns; abusers will not be identified and victims will not be supported. Such complacency potentially poses the greatest threat to child and adult protection within the Catholic Church.
Harm to the Church
2.56 The Catholic Church has been damaged by those within it who have abused children and others, and by those who have sought to cover up the abuse.
2.57 When Archbishop Leo Cushley was asked about public confidence in the Church, he told the Commission:
“Three days after I was ordained, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland met. There was a discussion about carrying out a historic review and setting up a Commission to review current practices. I said we needed to do both. We need to build our public persona, and we can’t preach the Gospel without clearing this up. We can’t let this go on. The Commission helps public confidence. We are men who give our lives, body and soul. We invest ourselves. But public confidence is almost gone. As soon as a priest is removed it is immediately interpreted as an indictment. He is accused publicly and people in the parish are scandalised”.
2.58 It could be argued that individuals in the Catholic Church sometimes comfort themselves with the thought that it is precisely because people expect the highest standards of behaviour from the Church that there has been such public damage. But it is also because people expect the highest standards of behaviour that public criticism and indeed anger are most powerful. In particular, the seeming distance between what is said by the Church and what is actually done is a constant and continuing cause of public concern.
2.59 The damage to the Church is not only from outside. Within the Church itself, harm has been done. One Diocesan Official told the Commission:
“In the last two years we have suffered a large loss of revenue in my own parish. People have stopped walking with the church. The truth is we are all so ashamed”.
2.60 Over and over again Scottish Catholics have spoken to the Commission of their shame.
2.61 When members of the Commission met parish priests, they heard the same story. The impact of abuse scandals in general and the Fort Augustus revelations in particular has had a very bad effect on parishes. Parish priests told the commission about declining attendance at Mass and declining offerings and saw a clear link between this decline and the cases of abuse within the Church.
2.62 For parish priests there has been another kind of harm done. Because confidence is low within the Church, as well as public confidence being low, there is an increasing likelihood that, for fear of doing wrong, priests and parishes will do nothing. Lack of confidence means that good things are not done in case mistakes are made in the process. It is not that the fear is of further abuse, it is that the confidence and courage are no longer there to attempt new and courageous things. So parish priests sometimes feel the Church is not being the force for good that it should be.
2.63 It was in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh that this lack of confidence was most strongly expressed to the Commission. These are the priests and parishes formerly in the care of, and under the authority of, Cardinal O’Brien.
2.64 Those whose confidence in the Catholic Church has been most damaged, however, are not the Scottish public or the Bishops, priests and members of parishes. Those whose confidence in the Catholic Church has been most damaged are those who have been abused. Very few survivors have a continuing connection with the Catholic Church. Of those who do, most who met the Commission told us that they maintained their faith and the practice of Catholicism despite the actions of the Church rather than because of them.
2.65 The Commission asked members of parishes all over Scotland to describe their experience of safeguarding. This was done through Parish Bulletins. Such an approach might include few survivors, since it is possible that many do not attend Mass or read the Bulletins. The Commission specifically stressed that we were looking for accounts of good care from the Church for those who had been abused and not only bad accounts. Not a single survivor approached the Commission to tell us of the care he or she had received from the Church, although occasionally individual safeguarding officials were mentioned as being helpful and caring – but only in the context of a situation which overall was not experienced as either helpful or caring.
2.66 The Catholic Church has been damaged by those within it who have abused children and others; and by those who have sought to cover up the abuse. Beth Smith, Director of ‘WithScotland’ told the Commission:
“The Church seems on the back foot. But it could be a leader and a pioneer in this field”.
The truth about good practice
2.67 The Commission has been pleased to find significant areas of good practice within the Catholic Church.
2.68 First among these is the commitment of volunteers and those holding safeguarding responsibilities. In parishes up and down Scotland the role of the parish co-ordinator is vital. In parishes where the coordinator was well-trained; was energetic and had good communication with the parish priest and good relationships with members of the parish, concern for safeguarding flourished. Where safeguarding flourishes, it is less likely that abuse will take place, and it is more likely that a good response is offered when an allegation of abuse is made. In other words, where a concern for safeguarding flourishes, the Church is a safer place. The role of parish coordinators in making the Catholic Church a safe place is of the first importance.
2.69 The Commission found that safeguarding coordinators at their best supported the parish priest in ensuring that staff and volunteers working with vulnerable people were PVG cleared, trained and supported. They provided a visible face for safeguarding within the parish so that parishioners knew who to go to in the event of any concerns. They ensured that policies and procedures were monitored and that the National Coordinator was informed of their work (for example, through annual audits). They also provided a link to statutory services in the event of any issue within the parish.
2.70 Best practice was evident when parishes had more than one coordinator and that at least one of these addressed the needs of diverse congregations. For example, a parish within one diocese had three safeguarding coordinators, one of whom was Polish and linked effectively with both the English and Polish speaking communities. Another parish had two coordinators who were well-versed with child and adult protection within their professional careers as well (one was a GP, for example). One of these coordinators was included in meetings with local police and social work teams to ensure effective exchange of information regarding any concerns within the parish. Good communication between the safeguarding coordinators and the clergy was also essential, combined with the power to effect change where improvements are needed.
2.71 Members of the Commission had the opportunity to attend a National Conference for Parish Safeguarding Coordinators. They found a high level of commitment and a high level of knowledge and understanding. Those who attend national conferences may not be entirely representative, but it is clear that there are, within the lay membership the Catholic Church in Scotland, significant numbers who are supportive of the need for a full and effective safeguarding system within the Church.
2.72 The Commission met all the diocesan safeguarding advisers. There are no accepted professional standards of selection, qualification or training in the Church and the advisers have come to this task from a variety of backgrounds. However, they all recognise and value the importance of their task, they all have the confidence of their Bishops, they all share a strong desire to see only the highest standards in safeguarding practice and they all, whether full-time or part-time, give a great deal of time to the work.
2.73 The same can be said of the National Coordinator for Safeguarding. The Commission received regular reports from her and was grateful for her help and advice on many occasions. Each Bishop and each diocesan advisor spoke with respect and appreciation of her and of her work. There are structural matters about the nature of her role which will be commented on later; but within the present structure her energy, thoughtfulness and commitment are beyond doubt.
2.74 Commitment to the importance of safeguarding was very high among parish priests whom the Commission met. As well as individuals, the Commission met groups of priests from three dioceses and attended an Interdiocesan Clergy Conference on Safeguarding. Again it is clear that there are, within the clergy of the Catholic Church in Scotland, significant numbers who are supportive of the need for a full and effective safeguarding system within the Church.
Desire for change
2.75 There is also evidence of strong desire for change.
2.76 No-one who gave evidence to the Commission said “things should stay the same” or anything like it. When members visited parishes in different parts of the country, the desire for change was always spoken of. Most parish members acknowledged that there had been a move towards openness, but often it was made clear that, for many, the change has not gone nearly far enough.
2.77 Perhaps it was among parish priests that the desire for change was most strongly expressed. Priests told the Commission of their “shame” (the word was often used) at the behaviour of some of their fellow-priests and their shame at the way the Church had sometimes responded to that behaviour. We heard that priests felt “let down” by the way the Church had behaved and that they longed to move to a culture of honesty and transparency in which the Church could become an example of openness to other institutions.
2.78 Almost as powerful was the evidence of Bishops and diocesan advisors given to the Commission. Again the word “shame” was used in these meetings. Again a determination for a new and better future was voiced by every one.
2.79 Pope Francis has spoken powerfully about his desire for change. On 2 February 2015 he wrote to some leaders of the Church:
“At my meeting in July with persons who had suffered sexual abuse by priests, I was deeply moved by their witness to the depth of their sufferings and the strength of their faith. This experience reaffirmed my conviction that everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused. Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home. Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors. As an expression of the Church’s duty to express the compassion of Jesus towards those who have suffered abuse and towards their families, the various Dioceses, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are urged to identify programmes for pastoral care which include provisions for psychological assistance and spiritual care. Pastors and those in charge of religious communities should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones; such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness” (Letter of Pope Francis to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences and Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life concerning the Pontifical Commission for the protection of minors).
2.80 Nevertheless, the Commission was regularly told by priests, parishioners, survivors and representatives with experience and authority in related fields that the words which are used about “desire for change” within the Church are only valuable in so far as they are combined with action.
2.81 As has been said, every Bishop who met the Commission certainly spoke with determination of the importance of the work of safeguarding in his diocese and in the Church. An article by Bishop Toal on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference in “The Sunday Times” (8 February 2015) is clear, committed and important:
“In recognition of the importance of such work [safeguarding], at their annual In-service meeting at the Scots College in Salamanca at the end of January, Scotland’s Catholic Bishops focused on the issue of Safeguarding. The week began with an acknowledgement of how important it was to learn from the past mistakes which the Church had made. In Mgr. Oliver’s words: “We did not listen to victims and underestimated the extent of the problem: we missed red flags and warning signs; we were conned by many offenders; and, believed often with professional advice that some offenders could be returned to ministry.
“A desire to learn from past failings and continue to develop best practice in future underpinned the week’s proceedings. The Catholic Church in Scotland, through its Safeguarding Service, continues to develop protocols, policies and guidelines in collaboration with experts, especially those who are expert in psychological and spiritual healing. We are keenly aware, that such policies should provide support and advice and should build upon collaboration with other Churches, private groups and public authorities.
“The Scottish Bishops heard that the priority principle must be assistance to the victims of abuse. Such assistance must be person to person, and must demonstrate to survivors a willingness to listen and an expression of understanding in the context of carefully prepared personal meetings.
“Safe environments need to be created for such meetings which empower survivors to find their voice so that they are heard with patience, understanding, respect and belief. In the words of Mgr Oliver, in all such encounters, it is crucial that the Church ‘listens, listens, listens’……
“In my role as Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, with specific responsibility for the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service I was moved and informed by the presentations made by such leading experts in their fields. The Catholic Church in Scotland is committed to learning from past mistakes, developing best practice and allowing external scrutiny of our work. This is why we asked Dr. Andrew McLellan a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and past Chief Inspector of Prisons to chair a Commission reviewing Safeguarding Protocols and Procedures. Our decision to focus on survivors of abuse was in preparation for Dr.McLellan’s report which we expect to receive in the first half this year and whose recommendations we have undertaken to accept and publish.” (The Sunday Times, 8 February 2015)
2.82 The emphasis on survivors will be discussed in chapter 5 of this Report.
Policies and Procedures
2.83 There is much that is good in the policies practices and procedures of the Catholic Church in Scotland with regard to Safeguarding. There are real weaknesses as well, and this Report will return to them. But “Awareness and Safety”, the key document for Scottish Catholic safeguarding policies, practices and procedures, does much well.
2.84 The document appears to be consistent with the civil and criminal law. The Commission is not in a position to make a clear determination, but we have not come across any passages in the Manual that would appear to authorise or require those administering the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service to act in conflict with the civil or criminal law of Scotland. However, compliance with all legal requirements should be more clearly referenced in “Awareness and Safety”.
2.85 It sets out a strong policy statement:
The Catholic Church in Scotland is concerned with the lives, safety, wholeness and well-being of each individual person within God’s purpose for everyone. It seeks to safeguard the welfare of people of all ages who are involved in whatever capacity with the Church and its organisations.
As a Church community, we accept that it is the responsibility of all of us, ordained, professed, paid and voluntary members, to work together to prevent the physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect of children, young people and adults at risk.
2.86 The strengths of the statement are the theological link between safeguarding and “God’s purpose for everyone” and the inclusion of “people of all ages”; recognising that not only children can suffer abuse; and the declaration that the safety of all is the responsibility of all. A weakness of the statement is the absence of reference to survivors of abuse.
2.87 However, in “Awareness and Safety” there is a clear statement about the response the Church should make to allegations of abuse. This is part of the Section entitled “Key Principles of an Effective Child Protection Response”:
The Catholic Church in Scotland promotes the welfare of everyone and has a responsibility to respond when it appears a child, young person or adult at risk needs to be made safe from harm whether the abuse is sexual, physical, emotional or neglect.
These procedures assume the right of everyone to live in an environment where they are protected from exploitation, abuse and harm.
When this right is abused by an individual associated with the Catholic Church, the Church will co-operate in an open and transparent way in partnership with the Statutory Agencies.
An individual who informs the Church of allegations or concerns of abuse will be taken seriously and every effort made to provide a consistent and sensitive response.
No single individual can protect children, young people or adults at risk by acting alone.
2.88 Equally clear and forceful is the section on Recruitment. It begins:
The Catholic Church is committed to doing everything possible to ensure children, young people and protected adults are kept safe from harm, therefore, the single most important responsibility to be undertaken is to ensure that anyone placed in a position of trust within the Church whether paid or otherwise, which gives them direct access to children, young people or protected adults, is selected with the utmost care. The recruitment, selection and on-going support of both volunteers and paid employees to work with children, young people and/or with protected adults, whether undertaken locally or at diocesan level, requires rigorous recruitment, selection and monitoring practices including interviews, taking up references, checking qualifications (where relevant), the use of the probationary period, ongoing supervision and performance monitoring, and ensuring accurate and adequate role descriptions and terms and conditions (whether relating to employment or a volunteer agreement) are prepared, issued and explained prior to commencement.
2.89 Although “the single most important responsibility” might be a subject for debate, the paragraph as a whole leaves no doubt about what the policy is and how it is to be carried out.
2.90 It clarifies the responsibility of parish safeguarding coordinators, who are central to the whole system. Ten principal duties are listed, including recruitment, record keeping and training. Though these policies and procedures are for parish coordinators, according to the National Coordinator for Safeguarding, “Awareness and Safety” has assisted in raising the profile and awareness of safeguarding in parishes, and enables a parish to establish good practice.
2.91 The Section entitled “Good Practice” sets out in detail how children and adults at risk are to be treated. It deals with specific situations, such as indoor events; consent; security; physical contact; use of photography and video; bullying; residential trips; and outdoor events. This is a key section of “Awareness and Safety”. It begins with a summary of good practice which is to be given to every volunteer and paid worker:
- treat all children and young people with respect;
- provide an example of good conduct you wish others to follow;
- ensure that there is more than one adult present during your
- organisation’s activities with children or young people, or at least that you are within sight or hearing of others. If this is not possible then the reasons should be recorded;
- respect a young person’s right to personal privacy;
- be available as a listening ear and, if necessary, refer for more appropriate help;
- try to remember that your actions may be interpreted differently from your intention;
- be aware that even caring physical contact with a child or young person may be misinterpreted;
- show understanding when dealing with sensitive issues; and
- seek advice in any situation where you feel unsure.
You must not:
- have inappropriate physical or verbal contact with others;
- permit abusive behaviour such as bullying, ridiculing or taunting;
- make suggestive or derogatory remarks or gestures in front of children or young people;
- allow yourself to be drawn into inappropriate attention-seeking behaviour such as “crushes”;
- show favouritism to any individual;
- jump to conclusions about others without checking the facts; and
- exaggerate or trivialise child abuse issues.
What to do …
If you suspect a child or young person is being abused physically, sexually or emotionally:
- share your concerns with the head of your group/organisation, the Priest or Diocesan Adviser.
If a child or young person discloses to you abuse by someone else:
- Keep calm, don’t be shocked and try to act normally.
- Accept what the child or young person says.
- Offer immediate support, understanding and reassurance, explaining that you cannot keep it a secret.
- Reassure the child or young person that they have done the right thing by telling you.
- Let them know that you need to talk to someone else. Do not promise them confidentiality.
- Let the child or young person speak freely. Do not push for information.
- Let them know what you are going to do next and that you will let them know what happens.
In all cases:
- Record everything that was said, including dates and times of conversation and any incidents disclosed.
- You must refer.
- You must not investigate.
2.92 The section on Training emphasises its importance. It includes:
All clergy, parish co-ordinators, link co-ordinators for religious congregations, presidents and leaders of associated organisations must attend the necessary training to enable them to carry out their roles and responsibilities.
As part of ongoing development, a member of clergy in charge of a parish should aim to access appropriate training on safeguarding policies for all his volunteers and paid staff in ministry with vulnerable groups.
The training should enable clergy, religious, paid staff and volunteers to feel confident that they know and understand their role and responsibilities when carrying out their ministry with children and/or adults at risk.
Clergy, religious, staff and volunteers should receive training to include information about how to respond to concerns/allegations of abuse.
These sections on Policy, Response to Abuse, Good Practice and Training in “Awareness and Safety” have been quoted at length because they are important. They demonstrate that the policies and procedures of the Catholic Church in Scotland on these vital aspects of Safeguarding are appropriate, adequate and clear.
2.93 The “Awareness and Safety” manual commands the respect of those who use it most. None of the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers, when asked, raised significant concerns about the document. They have different backgrounds – law, teaching, police, social work, youth work – and all were comfortable with the main content of the document. So were the Bishops, who have responsibility for the policy and procedures it contains. So too were parish coordinators, whose work depends on it. Less convincing was the testimony of parish priests. Those whom the Commission met were appreciative of “Awareness and Safety”, but it was not always clear that they were very familiar with its contents.
2.94 Similar confidence in the document was expressed by independent voices. Evidence given to the Commission by Police Scotland described the safeguarding policy of the Catholic Church as “strong” and awareness and training as “strengthening”, but “policy is not applied uniformly throughout Scotland”. The National Manager of Stop it Now! Scotland, Martin Henry, was previously employed within the safeguarding processes of the Catholic Church in Scotland. He told the Commission that he:
“Has witnessed the progress of safeguarding within the Church over the past twenty years: the current guidance should be regarded as an achievement.”
2.95 Among the different organisations and churches consulted by the Commission there was no strong criticism of “Awareness and Safety”, although there was strong criticism of failure to apply the policies and procedures.
Recommendations for Chapter 2
2.96 The “Awareness and Safety” manual should include reference to the qualifications, training, selection terms and conditions of diocesan advisers, and a fully professional structure should be introduced (paragraphs 2.51 and 3.26).
2.97 The “Awareness and Safety” manual should be clear about arrangements for priests against whom an allegation is made and also be clear about the responsibilities of the Bishop or Religious Superior (paragraphs 2.51, 3.10 and 4.35).
2.98 The “Awareness and Safety” manual should detail minimum expectations for quality assurance of safeguarding practices; it should highlight the need to follow up on training and it should make reference to people with additional support needs (paragraph 2.52).
2.99 The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland should have the authority to lay down policies, procedures and practices which must be followed to the letter in every diocese (paragraphs 2.53, 3.1, 3.3, 3.6, 3.66, 3.68, 3.70 and 3.73).
2.100 Complacency in relation to safeguarding must be eradicated, and parishioners should always be aware of how to report concerns (paragraph 2.55).
2.101 What is said by the Church in relation to safeguarding must always be followed by actions (paragraphs 2.58, 2.80, 5.5 and 5.30).
2.102 Compliance with all legal requirements should be more clearly referenced in “Awareness and Safety” (paragraph 2.84).