Chapter 3 - To take whatever steps are necessary to prevent abuse from occurring again

The Report

A Review of the Current Safeguarding Policies, Procedures and Practice within the Catholic Church in Scotland

The McLellan Commission published its Report on 18th August and has made eight key recommendations to Scotland's Catholic Bishops to improve the current standards of safeguarding within the Catholic Church.

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Chapter 3 - To take whatever steps are necessary to prevent abuse from occurring again

Awareness and Safety

3.1 There must be complete clarity about the authority the “Awareness and Safety” manual carries and about where responsibility for it lies. The two issues are related. This key document, setting out the policies and practices of the Catholic Church Scotland, is published in the name of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. Yet it seems that it can be amended without the consent or the authority of the Bishops’ Conference. This emerged both from the evidence of Bishops given to the Commission, who did not know anything about amendments to the document and from the website of the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service, which lists amendments which have been made without the approval of the Bishops’ Conference. It is absolutely essential that the safeguarding policies and practices in force in the Catholic Church carry full authority. They can only do that if they are approved by the Bishops’ Conference and the Bishops take on strong leadership roles to ensure rigorous and consistent implementation.

3.2 It is true that, at this stage, the amendments made without authority are slight. Nevertheless, if amendments appear which do not have episcopal authority, it will be possible at any time for the argument to be made that it is not clear which parts of the document are authoritative and which are not. Once it is admitted that some parts of the document are without authority, its whole status is compromised.

3.3 Moreover it is by no means clear what the authority of the Bishops’ Conference actually means. Evidence presented to the Commission shows that not all Bishops (if any) agree that the Bishops’ Conference has the authority to lay down policy, practice and procedures that must be followed in all dioceses. In the written evidence that Archbishop Philip Tartaglia presented to the Commission and the oral evidence he subsequently gave, the Archbishop explained that within the Archdiocese of Glasgow he was the ultimate authority. This raises a problem which must be solved. This relates to the possibility that a Bishop might reject the contents of “Awareness and Safety” or some part of it. If this is even in theory possible, then again the authority of “Awareness and Safety” as “the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland’s safeguarding policies” is compromised. For the Catholic Church in Scotland to be a safe place for all, it must be a safe place everywhere, and its safeguarding policies must be observed everywhere. For victims to be treated with fairness and consistency, they must be protected everywhere by the policies of “Awareness and Safety”.

3.4 In his evidence referred to above, Archbishop Tartaglia stressed that he was not responsible within his Archdiocese for “Religious Orders, some Catholic Societies and Associations established as separate Trusts distinct from the Archdiocese”. If there are communities within the Catholic Church in Scotland which are not under the authority of Bishops, it would appear that they are not under the authority of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland’s safeguarding polices. The independence or quasi-independence of “Religious Orders, some Catholic Societies and Associations established as separate Trusts distinct from the Archdiocese” raises important questions.

3.5 They are important questions in connection with the events at Fort Augustus Abbey school (run by the Benedictine Order). They were seen as important questions by the Cumberledge Commission when it reported on safeguarding in the Catholic Church in England and Wales in 2007:

Our basic concern is that all religious congregations involved in ‘active ministry’ should fully embrace the safeguarding arrangements.

3.6 This Report will deal in more detail with this issue in the sections “Independence” and “A Consistent Approach”. But at this stage it must be affirmed that there should be a clear structure which ensures that everyone in contact with the Catholic Church in Scotland, with any expression of the Catholic Church in Scotland, whether under the authority of a diocesan Bishop or not, has the right to the same protection as any other, the protection which is set out at the moment in “Awareness and Safety”. Under the present structure “Awareness and Safety” does not have that status, no matter how good relations between religious congregations and the Bishops’ Conference may be at the moment.

3.7 While the Commission was satisfied with much of the content of “Awareness and Safety”, there are gaps which need to be filled. In his evidence to the Commission, Bishop John Keenan wrote:

“There is no real mention of the role of a Bishop/Congregation Leader and this should be added. It is important for the community at large to be able to see what is expected of the leader in a diocese and religious congregation”.

3.8 The role of the Bishop in safeguarding matters is vital and difficult. It is not a surprise that Bishops can find it very stressful. But “Awareness and Safety” is not clear about what that role is. As Bishop Keenan told the Commission, the role is not simply about giving the Bishop his place, it is about making sure that everyone involved in the diocese knows exactly what everyone else is doing, and needs to do, so that the whole can work properly together. It is also about challenging, and helping, each Bishop to make sure that he is carrying out all of his duties properly.

3.9 Among the most difficult duties of a Bishop will be his response to allegations of abuse by a priest, and they are among the most important duties. “Awareness and Safety” is almost silent on the subject of these duties. Section 4.10.2 “Code of conduct” states:

This code should include a disciplinary procedure to be used in the event of a leader/volunteer breaching any of its requirements.

3.10 For the avoidance of doubt it should be made clear whether this reference does include a priest against whom an allegation has been made. Whether it does or does not, more needs to be said. It is unjust to the one who has made the allegation if the procedure to be adopted, both in the short-term and in the long-term, is not set out clearly and unambiguously in a document publicly available, and it is unjust to the alleged perpetrator against whom an allegation is made as well.

3.11 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states:

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

3.12 The Scottish Government commented:

This is referred to as the ‘paramountcy’ principle and stresses the importance of involving children and parents in decision making. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 was a direct result of the requirements of UNCRC to incorporate key principles – the ‘best interests’ or paramountcy principle, the no order (minimum intervention) principle and the right to be heard and participate in decision making.” (Scottish Government: ‘Support and Services for Parents’, 2008).

3.13 Not only in UNCRC and the legislation of the Scottish Parliament is the paramountcy principle understood to be absolutely central in matters to do with children: it has become accepted across the broadest range of non-statutory bodies and voluntary organisations. It is quite extraordinary to discover how little place is given to it in “Awareness and Safety”. The only mention of the paramountcy principle is as a qualification of Section 2 paragraph 5.4.2, a section about the membership of the Diocesan Risk Assessment and Management Team. The note reads:

However, it is essential to demonstrate, beyond doubt, that the advice given to the Bishop by the Diocesan Risk Assessment and Management Team is both objective and based on the paramountcy principle.

3.14 The paramountcy principle is not mentioned in Section 5.3 of “Awareness and Safety”: “Key Principles of an Effective Child Protection Response”. It is again worrying that there is no explanation anywhere of what the paramountcy principle is. It is also worrying that there is no explanation of why it is important. And there is no explanation of the ways in which the principle might operate in practice. And no one seems to have noticed this.

3.15 The paramountcy principle refers specifically to children. When “Awareness and Safety” was first written most attention was given to children. However, since then, as the document itself says:

Adults who would be regarded as at risk have, in recent times, received much awaited attention from the Government. The subject of adult protection has not been as well researched as child protection, however, recent studies and data that have been made available indicate that high levels of harm are a symptom of widespread discrimination against those with disabilities on the grounds of age, physical, sensory and mental health problems. (“Awareness and Safety”, section 6, paragraph 2.1)

3.16 Much of the language suggests that “Awareness and Safety” was written in two parts: the part about “Adult Protection Policy/Procedures” having been written later than and added on to the main part of the document. Any rewriting should incorporate the importance of protecting adults, as well as children, throughout the whole document.

3.17 “Awareness and Safety” identifies some individuals as particularly at risk, namely anyone who:

Is elderly and frail; has a mental health problem including dementia or a personality disorder; has a physical or sensory disability; has a severe physical illness; is a substance misuser; is an unpaid carer; is homeless, displaced or exploited; has a learning disability. (“Awareness and Safety”, section 6, paragraph 3.2)

3.18 This list may be useful as it encourages watchfulness in all who read it as they exercise their responsibility for safeguarding. But it is not an adequate list. It needs to be recognised that anyone can be at risk. In certain situations, confronted with certain behavior, even the strongest and most resilient can be at risk. Safeguarding policies must recognise that the need for protection is not a consequence of falling into a certain category. Policies and procedures need to be designed to protect everyone, from the weakest child to the most powerful adult, from abuse.

3.19 There is a section on “Training” in “Awareness and Safety”. It states:

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. (“Awareness and Safety”, section 7, paragraph 2)

3.20 It does not state, however, what happens to those who do not.

3.21 At more than one meeting with priests, it was clear that there were two groups. Those whose training at seminary has been recent felt well-served by this training with regard to safeguarding. They felt it had given them confidence to deal with their responsibilities. Those whose seminary days were more distant felt the opposite. It is good that the training of priests is improving. But it is very important that those whose training in this field was less adequate receive the appropriate additional training. It must be provided, they must receive it, and it must be regular.

3.22 Bishops are included in the provisions of Section 7.2 under the words “all clergy”. But their duties and responsibilities are so different from those of parish priests, and so significant, that there must be specific training for them. There is no doubt that all Bishops spend a good deal of time talking about safeguarding, but that is not the same as training. Linked to this, and to ensure consistency, there should also be specific training for leaders of Religious Orders.

3.23 The references to training in “Awareness and Safety” will be much stronger in any re-writing if they speak of “regular training”. Safeguarding issues change, and people forget. Being at a training session years ago does not mean one is well trained. As with any agency or profession associated with the care and protection of vulnerable people, a commitment to on-going professional development is required (ML21 supporter).

3.24 Much that is contained in “Awareness and Safety” is satisfactory. The concerns of this section of the Report are more about what is not in the document rather than what is in: the role of the Bishop; emphasis of the paramountcy principle; an inclusive treatment of anyone at risk; an explanation of the process for dealing with those who do not undertake mandatory safeguarding training and especially, a clear account of the theological principles which underpin safeguarding. When these omissions are added to the history of “Awareness and Safety”, it is the view of the Commission that it will be better for a complete revision or rewriting to take place rather than still more new material being added to what is already there. Survivors should be involved in this process.

Advisers and Coordinators

3.25 Key to the operation of the safeguarding service in the Church are those advisers and coordinators who serve the Church at different levels: the National Coordinator, Diocesan Advisers and Parish Coordinators. In evidence to the Commission, Detective Superintendent, Lesley Boal from Police Scotland said:

“Procedures and guidelines cannot in themselves protect children. A competent, skilled, confident workforce, together with a vigilant public, can”.

3.26 The Report has already acknowledged the commitment and understanding and sensitivity shown very obviously by so many of these and that that commitment and understanding are appreciated alike by Bishops and by Parish Coordinators. But commitment and understanding and sensitivity are not in themselves enough to make the service credible to the public, nor to give survivors the confidence they need, nor to ensure that the Church will maintain the highest standards while under great pressure. For paid staff, a fully professional structure should be introduced. For volunteers and paid staff alike, recruitment, training, scrutiny and consistency across the country must all be of the highest standard.

3.27 The Key Role of Diocesan Advisers is set out in “Awareness and Safety”:

To advise the Bishop and senior members of his team.

To guide the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Group (and any subgroups thereof).

To work closely with key members to help co-ordinate, plan and monitor all aspects of the protection of children, young people and adults at risk within the Diocese.

To highlight gaps in policy, practice and service provision to the Bishop and National Safeguarding Coordinator.

3.28 The quality, experience and training of Diocesan Advisers are critical. Critical for safeguarding and critical for the reputation of the Church in safeguarding. There must be clear national criteria for the recruitment, training and supervision of Diocesan Advisers. Parish Coordinators in one part of the country must have as good advice as those in another.

3.29 Whilst there is a National Coordinator, there are no dioceses which have a Safeguarding Adviser whose role is exclusively safeguarding. It may well be the case that there is not a need for any diocese to have a full time adviser, but four dioceses have volunteers as safeguarding advisers, and in three dioceses the adviser has no defined working hours. Advisers also come from a range of backgrounds, but very few from a professional safeguarding background. The quality and experience of advisers is critical to the reputation of the Church in safeguarding.

3.30 The Church needs to be transparent and open in safeguarding, but it also needs to give members of the Church and wider society every confidence that its structures are robust and consistent. It is hard to see where consistency can come from with such a mixed approach to the role of the adviser. This is reflected in the experience of victims and survivors and others who spoke with the Commission. Whilst there was an acknowledgement of national policies and procedures and protocols, there was a serious lack of clarity about their implementation and consistency of practice. It was also clear to the Commission that Bishops and Religious Leaders, whilst following national procedures, could be seen to be doing so in their own way so that the experience of victims and survivors was varied. Agreeing procedures and how to implement them is critical to public confidence both within and outside the Church.

3.31 Under the present arrangements, most dioceses are too small to sustain full-time professional advisers. That does not preclude the possibility of part-time office-holders working within the national system or of advisers sharing their time with more than one diocese.

3.32 Key to the introduction of a fully professional structure is a new understanding of the role of the National Coordinator. According to “Awareness and Safety” the National Coordinator for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and team exist to:

  • promote and continue the development of policy and procedure on child protection and adults at risk;
  • promote and coordinate the Church’s policy and practice on recruitment and selection;
  • work with the members of the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Groups to ensure that Church policy is implemented;
  • work in conjunction with the members of the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Groups to facilitate training for clergy, coordinators and those working with children, young people and adults at risk by offering training materials/sessions;
  • develop resources relating to child protection/adults at risk; provide support, advice and guidance when child protection/adult at risk issues arise;
  • liaise with statutory bodies, other Church denominations and other voluntary organisations; and
  • commission on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland an annual audit of the work of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Groups to the Church’s adherence to policy and practice in relation to safeguarding.

3.33 At the moment the National Coordinator has little or no authority over Diocesan Advisers, who are each responsible to the Bishop in his or her diocese. Canon law requires this. Archbishop Cushley told the Commission:

“We must be careful that the National Coordinator role does not mean surrendering the authority and responsibility of the Bishop”.

3.34 However, a way should be found which does not undermine the authority of the Bishop, but also gives the National Coordinator responsibility for ensuring that national standards for recruitment, training and monitoring Diocesan Advisers are set and maintained professionally.

3.35 Evidence was given several times to the Commission that greater responsibility should be given to the National Coordinator. For example, in giving evidence to the Commission, Bishop Stephen Robson said of the National Coordinator:

“Personally, I think her role needs beefed up a little bit. She is capable of doing far more to keep us all together. To keep our policies and procedures together”.

3.36 One Diocesan Official said the same thing:

“It is important that the National Safeguarding Coordinator should have more authority”.

3.37 In the course of visits to different parishes, we were advised by many that the National Safeguarding Coordinator was wholly committed to developing safeguarding policy and ensuring delivery. She had a very good grasp of the issues that need to be addressed across the country to improve policy and practice. It was clear that she demonstrated strong leadership qualities and had gathered sound evidence of where current and future priorities should lie. However, in the final analysis she lacked the power and authority to ensure compliance, consistency and improvements.

3.38 This is the same matter as was explored above with regard to a professional structure for the safeguarding service. Without a professional head of the service having the power to ensure national standards of recruitment and training and monitoring, sooner or later recruitment and training and monitoring are bound to vary. The result will be that in one part of the country, Bishops, Parish Coordinators and survivors will not be given as good a service as they will in another part of the country.

3.39 This is not about giving more work to anyone. It is about creating a more efficient and more just authority structure. Indeed there were hints given to the Commission that the present structure may almost be generating too much work. One Diocesan Adviser told us:

“The role of the National Safeguarding Coordinator has exploded. So much more is being asked of the Advisers. We must solve this”.

3.40 One part of the solution might be the creation of the post of Depute National Coordinator or a small team with clearly defined responsibilities and lines of accountability.

3.41 The unpaid, but official part of the Safeguarding Service is the Parish Coordinator. The role of the safeguarding coordinator within a parish was often described to the Commission as crucial. Safeguarding coordinators supported the parish priest in ensuring that staff and volunteers working with vulnerable people were 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 (e.g. through annual audits). They also provided a link to statutory services in the event of any issue within the parish.

3.42 The role of the safeguarding coordinator within a parish is defined in “Awareness and Safety” as:

  • be conversant with the information contained in the policies;
  • attend appropriate training and Coordinators’ meetings;
  • ensure that any person involved in work with vulnerable groups within the Parish is aware of and understands their responsibilities to protect children, young people and adults at risk and to provide them with the safest environment whilst involved in Parish/Church activities;
  • ensure that recruitment of those who will be working with vulnerable groups is conducted according to policy and current procedures and that all necessary documents are completed prior to any decision to engage their services;
  • assist the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Group by ensuring that all the relevant information is obtained to enable a PVG check to be processed;
  • maintain accurate, up-to-date records of all activities involving vulnerable groups within the Parish and those involved in running these activities;
  • take a lead role, along with the Parish Priest, to promote training opportunities for all engaged in work with vulnerable groups;
  • liaise with organisations that use Parish premises to ensure good practice in relation to their responsibility for the welfare and safety of vulnerable groups in their care;
  • be available to help volunteers and others who may wish to express concerns about vulnerable group issues; and
  • follow agreed procedures when information is received regarding risks or concerns involving vulnerable groups.

3.43 It is a daunting list of responsibilities; and it is hardly surprising that the skills and time commitment of parish safeguarding coordinators vary considerably. What is surprising is that the support they receive from their own parishes and from their own parish priests also varies considerably. Worse still, in some parishes there is no coordinator at all.

Evaluation, Scrutiny, Monitoring and Review

3.44 “Awareness and Safety” sets out the policies and procedures, but it says very little about ways in which these policies and procedures are checked, or should be checked, for effectiveness. A Church may have a poster up regarding safeguarding, but the existence of the poster does not mean that parishioners know what it says.

3.45 The Commission visited two dioceses in different parts of the country and studied documents to discover what steps are being taken to ensure policy and practice in safeguarding undergoes continuous improvement. The purpose of this was to question how an organisation knows whether existing policies and practices are effective and what they can do to improve them. The focus deliberately went beyond ‘tick-box’ auditing procedures to more qualitative examination. Parishes, identified by the Commission, as showing high compliance with the requirements of “Awareness and Safety” and parishes showing low compliance were selected. It was heartening to discover much good work in safeguarding being done at parish level. However, it was very disheartening to discover how little monitoring or evaluation there was of this work. Where the safeguarding work done was of a poor standard, the lack of monitoring and evaluation could be dangerous.

3.46 When parishes were visited, evaluation of safeguarding policy implementation was found to be quantitative through the National Audit, rather than through their own monitoring and reporting at parish level. This seems to be a missed opportunity at the very least, with more robust evaluation and self-monitoring important to informing a parish’s work, and opportunities for peer monitoring a useful means of sharing practice and offering support. No such innovation in monitoring was evident.

3.47 The National Safeguarding Service carries out an Annual Audit. The results of the audit for 2013 were published in December 2014. The introduction explains the context and purpose of the Audit:

Each year The Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service through the Office of the National Coordinator presents a report to the Bishops of Scotland at their November meeting in relation to the work of safeguarding in the previous calendar year.

The audit contains details of how safe environments are created, with a rigorous recruitment which includes an Application Form, references and PVG scheme membership (previously disclosures) for those involved with children and vulnerable adults in a Church setting.

As well as PVG, training plays an important role in creating safe environments. The current national safeguarding training programme developed by professionals within the Catholic Church is called “Awareness and Safety in our Catholic Communities”. The training programme includes a Welcome Guide for All volunteers in the parishes with clear guidance about appropriate safeguarding procedures and good practice. This training is mandatory and delivered by experienced and trained Diocesan safeguarding Trainers. The Audit contains details about the training undertaken annually. Training has been further enhanced during 2013-14 to include important details such as managing sex offenders in our parish communities, information on the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, and the impact of Child Sex Exploitation.

Finally, the Audit presented to the Bishops’ Conference contains details of any allegations which have been made and how these have been dealt with.

3.48 This is very positive, although to describe managing sex offenders in our parish communities as a “detail” is certainly unwise, and the absence of any references to survivors of abuse in the Introduction and in the Audit itself is a serious matter to which this Report will return.

3.49 The audit has two striking features. One is the level of compliance recorded:

  • Out of 590 priests in parishes, 102 (17%) were not, at the time of the audit, members of the PVG scheme.
  • Of 9028 volunteers, 4803 (53%) were not members of the PVG scheme. In 2013, only 170 priests in parishes (29%) undertook training.
  • The figure for volunteers cannot be stated accurately, since it refers to volunteers with adults and volunteers with children, but does not indicate how many might be counted twice. But at the best possible interpretation, 7232 volunteers (87%) out of 9028 undertook training; the figure might be as low as 3317 (37%).

3.50 With the possible exception of the volunteer training figure, these are low figures for membership of the PVG Scheme and very low figures indeed for training. At the time of the audit, more than half of the volunteers in the Catholic Church in Scotland who were required to be members of the Scheme, were not members. However, the Commission appreciates that this is a time of transition between the previous system of disclosure and the current PVG Scheme and that this is being addressed. Training is described as “mandatory” in “Awareness and Safety”. In 2013, 71% of priests in parishes did not undertake safeguarding training. As the Report has already stated, one experience of safeguarding training is of no use. Not only must training be mandatory, regular safeguarding training must also be mandatory.

3.51 The other striking feature of the audit is the absence of any scrutiny of the figures. There is no comment to help the reader judge whether the figures are high or low. There is no explanation of reasons why the figures might be high or low. There is no hint of what steps are to be taken to improve the figures. There is no mention of what sanctions are being taken against those who do not comply. And there is no qualitative assessment of the processes which lie behind the figures.

3.52 With the absence of scrutiny there is little possibility of improvement. It is not only regular training which is needed, it is regular effective training. If training is merely attending a session and nothing is learned, it is of little use, since it gives the status and responsibilities of “trained” to those who have not actually been trained. Information about how much training is being done reveals serious concerns and, the absence of any way of measuring the quality of training, raises more concerns. If the Catholic Church does not know how well it is doing, how can it ever know if it is improving?

3.53 After the Rotherham Inquiry, Professor Jay told the Commission:

“In Rotherham Child Protection Committees had countless plans, but no one ever checked to see if the processes were doing any good.”


3.54 The Cumberledge Commission reported in 2007 on “Safeguarding with Confidence – keeping children and vulnerable adults safe in the Catholic Church.” Its terms of reference were limited to the Catholic Church in England and Wales. One of its recommendations was the establishment of a National Safeguarding Commission, a recommendation which was accepted and acted upon. “Independence” was identified by the Cumberledge Commission as a key element in the new structure:

We are equally clear that new structural arrangements must continue to allow for independence which is credible. We would argue that the necessary independence is not around how it performs its function, whether as an independent agency or not, but about putting in place the checks and balances to ensure that what is done in the name of children and vulnerable adults’ safeguarding is open and transparent and subject to rigorous scrutiny from those with knowledge and expertise to critically challenge where appropriate (“Safeguarding with Confidence”, 2007, paragraph 3.20).

3.55 The priority for the Cumberledge Commission was not the structural arrangements which might be put in place to provide for an element of independence, but rather that there might be appropriate room and respect for independence within any structure present or future.

3.56 It is a view which this Commission heard regularly. Public suspicion of safeguarding procedures in the Catholic Church in Scotland is rooted in a perception that these procedures are allowed to be secretive and may lead to cover-up, because all the safeguarding monitoring is done by the Catholic Church and by those employed by the Catholic Church. Survivors demand independence in the way the Church responds to their needs so that there can be less fear that the Church’s response will be governed by a desire to protect itself and meet its own needs. Those who work in safeguarding in the Catholic Church welcome an element of independence as an assurance that their professional standards are of the highest. And all Bishops in Scotland support moves towards greater openness and transparency. Their choice of the Chair of this Commission who is not a Catholic was seen in the Church and beyond as evidence of this desire for more transparency.

3.57 Everyone supports “an element of independence”, more independence in regulation, in training, in scrutiny and in engagement with survivors. It is not easy, however, to find the best way for this desire for independence to be matched with the Church’s own structures, and, in particular, with the authority of the Bishops. It is not easy, but it is essential. If the challenge and reinforcement and credibility that an element of independence will bring to safeguarding in the Catholic Church are not welcomed into its structures, the argument will be irrefutable that the Catholic Church, whatever it says, does not want change.

3.58 The Commission agrees with the words of the Chair of the Rotherham Inquiry:

“Whatever the arrangements you absolutely need external scrutiny”.

3.59 Different models of independence should be examined. One is the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales (NCSC). Its website says it:

Is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the Church’s Safeguarding policy for Children and Vulnerable adults and for monitoring compliance. It is mandated by the CBCEW (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales) and the CoR (Conference of Religious) to ensure that standards are met and policies implemented. It does so in the spirit of the Church’s call to “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God (Micah 6.8). The NCSC sets and directs the work of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service.

3.60 The Chair of the NCSC (who is a member of the McLellan Commission) was able to give the Commission several examples of the value of his freedom and the lack of inhibition put upon him by Church authorities. The Archbishop of Westminster, when he met the Commission, told us that the journey to the establishment of the NCSC had been a long and complex journey, especially perhaps for Bishops and, that “by and large, the new arrangements appear to be working well”. A model which fulfils the requirements of the Cumberlege Commission, which has the support of its own Chair and also of the Chair of the Bishops’ Conference, is clearly one which could be recommended.

3.61 But England and Scotland are not the same. What works in one may not necessarily work as well in the other. Other models of ensuring the necessary independence can also be studied. Less radical would be the inclusion of independent people within the present structures and the service remaining an agency of the Bishops’ Conference. This would mean employing people, not necessarily Catholic and not necessarily nominated by Bishops, to national and diocesan structures. With this model much depends on the individuals involved with significant professional experience and personal authority and integrity needed to provide public credibility and satisfy the concerns of survivors.

3.62 A more radical model would be for the Bishops’ Conference to enter into an agreement with an outside body with experience and expertise in safeguarding. For example, the Chief Executive of Children 1st, Alison Todd, indicated to the Commission that they had been interested in offering support to the Catholic Church in this context.

3.63 There could be interesting possibilities for the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service if it were able to benefit from the scrutiny and supervision of an external body, however there would be challenges as well.

3.64 Whatever model is used, the incorporation of an independent element is essential: essential for public credibility, for the quality of the service, and for the reassurance of survivors. It will bring greatly added value to training and monitoring and response to survivors and it will overcome whatever remains of a culture of secrecy. To repeat Professor Jay:

Whatever the arrangements you absolutely need external scrutiny.

A Consistent Approach

3.65 When giving evidence to the Commission, Archbishop Cushley said:

“All members have a role to play, but coordinated leadership is vital as the culture of safeguarding needs to be understood and adopted by the whole Church. Leadership on this subject presently stems from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and branches out to each diocese. It is therefore essential that there be cooperation and that national minimum standards relating to openness and responsibility, accountability, support and integrity, which provide for differing needs, be adopted and implemented at the Diocesan level. It is also crucial that national minimum standards for training are developed for and with clergy, as our pastors are at the forefront of ensuring that a culture of safeguarding exists”.

3.66 The themes of cooperation, coordination and consistency of the application of the national standards were very frequent themes in the work of the Commission. There are two issues. One is the possibility of different standards and different actions in different dioceses. The other is the status of Religious Congregations, the members of whom do not, in most circumstances, come within the authority of the Bishop of the diocese. It was in consideration of both of these issues that the Cumberlege Commission developed what it termed its “One Church” approach for England and Wales. Their Report acknowledges that there are difficulties in attempting to develop national standards and consistency:

The Church is collegiate, not a homogeneous organisation working to a clearly established hierarchy with lines of accountability as generally understood by the secular world. Authority rests with each Bishop in his diocese and each Congregational Leader in his or her congregation. Though they come together through the Conference of Bishops and as a federation in the Conference of Religious respectively, they have differing priorities and, just as importantly, different levels of resources upon which to draw (“Safeguarding with Confidence”, 2007, paragraph 2.11).

3.67 The context is one where, in theory at least, the authority of a Bishop in his diocese might conflict with the aim of a consistent approach throughout the Church. So, one Bishop might take a different approach in dealing with an allegation brought to his attention from the approach taken by another Bishop (although both are required to act within the law). Or one Bishop might take a different approach from another in restoring to active ministry a priest who had been removed from active ministry. One Bishop might deal differently with a survivor from the way another Bishop would. And sometimes such differences could be justified, since there would be different stories, people and histories behind each.

3.68 But always such differences will give at least the appearance of unfairness, and sometimes real injustice may lie behind such inconsistencies. Unless the Catholic Church can find a way to ensure that people with the same needs or with the same fault in different parts of the country are treated according to the same standard, it will not escape the impression of acting in a contradictory way. This point was made often to the Commission by survivors. The evidence given by Detective Superintendent Leslie Boal from Police Scotland also identified different practices within the Church in different parts of Scotland.

3.69 The problem is far-reaching since the authority of the Bishop in the diocese is central to principles of canon law, but it may not be as difficult to solve practically. All of the Scottish Bishops who the Commission met expressed themselves in favour of the principles of “One Church”, although they recognised the problem. Bishop Keenan, for example told the Commission:

“Taking the meaning of a ‘One Church Approach’ to safeguarding from the Cumberlege Commission, a commitment to use the same policies, procedures and systems throughout the Church, then this is what we should be aiming for if it is not already practice in Scotland. Dioceses, Religious Congregations and lay movements should all be using the same policies, practices and procedures to ensure continuity within the Church. There may be occasions where some procedures and policies may be required to be tailored to the nature and resources of a diocese or Religious Congregation, but not to the exclusion of the safety of children, young people or vulnerable adults”.

3.70 If the members of the Bishops’ Conference in Scotland commit themselves to cooperation, consistency and minimum standards of openness, accountability and training, then their joint will should be strong enough to establish those principles, despite the difficulty in canon law. The Archbishop of Westminster, with a number of years now of working inside a “One Church” approach, put it this way:

“It is not so much relinquishing sovereignty, but rather ensuring that Bishops exercise their authority in relation to Safeguarding matters within the constraint of agreed policy, procedure and professional advice”.

3.71 The authority of the Bishop in each diocese must not be allowed to be an excuse to fail to observe national standards and it need not be a barrier to those standards being accepted.

3.72 The absence of a fully functioning “One Church” approach is most clearly seen in the events following the disclosures of abuse at Fort Augustus School. The Report has addressed some issues in relation to Fort Augustus and will return to this. At this point it is the question of responsibility which is important. Fort Augustus School was a Benedictine School, part of a Religious Congregation, therefore, it did not come under the authority of the diocesan Bishop. However, each establishment in the Benedictine Order has its own independence, so Fort Augustus was not fully under the authority of the Abbot President of the Benedictine Congregation concerned. When the school closed, it ceased to exist as a legal entity, and its responsibility for what had happened there disappeared. So it might be argued that the Bishop had no responsibility, the Benedictine Abbot had no responsibility, and the School itself, with the responsibility, did not exist.

3.73 Yet despite its apparent technical accuracy, this issue of responsibility would offend against any sense of natural justice. It would do enormous damage to the reputation of the Catholic Church and would be an empty, apparently heartless response to those who suffered abuse. It is the clearest example of the need for a “One Church” or “A Consistent” approach not only among Bishops in dioceses, but also between the diocesan structure and Religious Congregations.

3.74 When the Commission met the Conference of Religious Congregations in Scotland we learned that working relationships with regard to Safeguarding were felt to be very good between the Dioceses and the Religious Congregations. The Chair of the Safeguarding Commission for Religious Orders in Scotland is himself a Parish Safeguarding Coordinator and a Diocesan Safeguarding Trainer. There are very few places in Scotland where members of religious orders are in contact with children (except when they are doing parish work, when they are firmly under the authority of the Bishop). The National Safeguarding Coordinator and the Secretary to the Bishops’ Conference also told us that the working relationship was very satisfactory.

3.75 There is only one Religious Congregation in Scotland (a tiny Congregation) which has not voluntarily agreed to abide by the policies and practices of “Awareness and Safety”. In that sense a “One Church” policy is in place in Scotland now with regard to the diocesan structure and Religious Congregations.

3.76 There is a caveat. Consistency of standards, training, recruitment and response to survivors are too important to depend on good working relationships. There must be a formal structure recognised by both parties, and a way must be found to ensure that the one remaining Congregation does adhere to the principles of “Awareness and Safety”.


3.77 A parishioner from Glasgow, a priest in the Western Isles and a Bishop who met us in Edinburgh all told the Commission the same thing:

Remember theology.

3.78 They may have meant different things. They might have been remarking on the small amount of theology which appears in “Awareness and Safety”. They might have meant that there are theological problems which need to be addressed – several times the seal of confession was raised with the Commission as a difficult issue. They might have been expressing a need for clear theological material about safeguarding to be made available for use in worship. These matters are all important, but most important of all they may have meant that the task of placing safeguarding where it cannot be ignored in the life of the Church; the task of changing the hearts and minds of those who only pay lip-service to safeguarding; the task of leading people to want to do their very best in safeguarding and the task of turning people to love safeguarding, is, for a Church, a theological task. Safeguarding reaches its proper place in the life of a Church when safeguarding is clearly seen as not only the law, but the will of God and the gift of God.

3.79 It is not enough to see safeguarding as a duty. All Scottish Catholics must come to respect safeguarding. They must come to know that the calling to make sure that all who are at risk and the weakest, most afraid and defenceless among them are safe, is a privilege, as well as the law. Let people think of safeguarding as filling in forms and attending meetings, and it will always be boring and a burden.

3.80 Bishop Gilbert told the Commission:

“In Christianity in general, and in the Catholic Church in particular, there is an “a priori” culture conducive to good safeguarding – based on Jesus’ own self-identification with children and the vulnerable. Wherever this theological basis is appealed to it would resonate with both clergy and people”.

3.81 Pope Francis also referred to Jesus’ self-identification with children in St Matthew’s gospel. It is a powerful passage often quoted in connection with safeguarding:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 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”! (Matthew, 18:6,7)

3.82 It is a powerful passage. No good theology of safeguarding will be content with platitudes about the sweetness of children. A good theology of safeguarding will recognise the depth of hurt and damage, the depth of wrong, which abuse regularly causes. It will not avoid the deepest questions of evil and the God of love and it will proclaim the justice of God for those who cry out for justice and against those who seek to flee from justice.

3.83 Any theology of safeguarding will want to reflect on Jesus’ self-identification with children. Those who welcome these little ones welcome me: by implication those who hurt these little ones hurt me. The children in the passage may be taken literally as children, and so have an immediate reference to many cases of abuse.

3.84 For children, those at risk, the marginalized and those who live in fear, a theology of safeguarding will speak of them and to them. It will speak of healing and of prayer. It will speak of repentance, justice, forgiveness and hope. It will speak of God, so it will speak of love.

3.85 It is beyond the scope of this Commission to set out a compelling and coherent theology of safeguarding for the Catholic Church in Scotland. That is the task of the Church itself. It is for the Commission to emphasise the importance and the urgency of that task. Without it, survivors will hear no word of hope and healing from the Church. Without it, what will the Church say to perpetrators of offences? And without a compelling and coherent theology of safeguarding, how will the Church ever be confident that it is supporting people with safeguarding responsibilities, clergy and lay people alike? That theological work is necessary to help to make the Church a safe place for all.

3.86 In his evidence to the Commission, Bishop Gilbert sought to highlight:

“The specifically Christian character of safeguarding within the Church. It should be the aim of every Catholic parish, school or organisation to create an environment where young people are both protected and affirmed in their human and Christian identity…. Such an approach will necessarily adopt policies, procedures and practices that are similar or identical in content with those advocated by government and prevailing in secular institutions. But they need to be more suffused by a Christian vision / value system and indeed to offer, as well as what is normally offered, specifically Christian aids. There is a role here for the Catholic Church, along with other Christian communities in our country, to offer an example of best practice”.

3.87 A Catholic, scriptural, Scottish, fresh theological understanding of safeguarding might bear fruit. It is likely that the new, clear insights it will bring will make their way into the prayer and worship life of the Church. A Safeguarding Prayer appears on the website of the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service:

Lord Jesus we praise you for calling us to the service of others.

We pray for a generosity of spirit to ensure the vulnerable are protected.

We pray for a compassionate heart so that we will reach out to those who are wounded by abuse.

We pray for courage and determination as we seek the safety of everyone in our parish communities.

We dedicate ourselves to this work of service and pray that you will help us to do your will at all times and in all places.

3.88 No doubt many of those involved in safeguarding use this prayer. This prayer could be the beginning of a new treasury of prayer as new theological insights illuminate and encourage the Church. Prayers for survivors and their families, prayers for Advisers and Coordinators, prayers for priests and bishops and congregational leaders, prayers of repentance, prayers for hope, prayers for understanding, prayers for the Church. To set safeguarding in the context of the whole worship of the Church is, in itself, a real and necessary theological insight.

Recommendations for Chapter 3

3.89 The paramountcy principle should be clearly highlighted in the “Awareness and Safety” manual (paragraph 3.14).

3.90 Any rewriting of the “Awareness and Safety” manual should incorporate the importance of adults, as well as children, throughout the document (paragraph 3.16).

3.91 Safeguarding policies need to recognise that anyone can be at risk at certain times and in certain circumstances (paragraph 3.18).

3.92 Full and regular training in safeguarding should be provided to all priests, particularly those whose training at seminary was a long time ago (paragraph 3.21).

3.93 There must be specific training in safeguarding for Bishops and for leaders of Religious Orders (paragraph 3.22).

3.94 A commitment to ongoing professional development for all those involved in safeguarding should be made (paragraph 3.23).

3.95 The “Awareness and Safety” manual should be completely revised or rewritten rather than still more new material being added to what is already there. Survivors should be involved in this process (paragraph 3.24).

3.96 The Church needs to be transparent and open in safeguarding and, in doing this, needs to give members of the Church and wider society every confidence that its structures are robust and consistent (paragraph 3.30).

3.97 The National Safeguarding Coordinator should have the power and authority to ensure compliance, consistency and improvements (paragraph 3.37).

3.98 Consideration should be given to the creation of the post of Depute National Safeguarding Coordinator or a small team with clearly defined responsibilities and lines of accountability (paragraph 3.40).

3.99 Monitoring and scrutiny must be developed in a way designed to lead to improvement (paragraph 3.45).

3.100 There should be more robust evaluation and self monitoring of safeguarding policy implementation (paragraph 3.46).

3.101 Managing sex offenders in parish communities should be a regular feature in Annual Audits (paragraph 3.48).

3.102 Survivors of abuse should be referred to in all Annual Audits (paragraph 3.48).

3.103 Action must be taken to deal with non-compliance with compulsory requirements (paragraph 3.50).

3.104 The Annual Audits should contain some scrutiny of the information they give (paragraphs 3.51 and 3.52).

3.105 Consideration must be given to finding the right way to introduce an independent element into the process by which the Church seeks to meet the needs of survivors (paragraphs 3.56 and 3.57).

3.106 An external element is an essential part of monitoring and scrutiny of the effectiveness of the Safeguarding Service (paragraph 3.57).

3.107 Careful thought should be given to examining different models of independence before decisions about elements of independence are taken (paragraph 3.59).

3.108 The harmonious arrangement existing at present between the diocesan structures and religious congregations must be established on a formal footing, which will not simply depend on good relationships (paragraphs 3.74 and 3.76).

3.109 The one religious congregation which has not voluntarily agreed to abide by the policies and practices of the “Awareness and Safety” manual must agree to adhere to these principles (paragraphs 3.75 and 3.76).

3.110 The relative absence of theological insight in the “Awareness and Safety” manual must be replaced with a clear explanation of the task of safeguarding as a Christian privilege with a firm theological foundation (paragraph 3.78).

3.111 The theology of safeguarding must be set out in a way that will speak to those at risk, to children, to those who have been harmed, to the marginalised and to those who live in fear (paragraphs 3.82, 3.83 and 3.84).

3.112 Prayers for the safeguarding task of the Church should illuminate the whole worship life of the Church (paragraphs 3.87 and 3.89).

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