Overview

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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Overview

Support for survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland in the field of safeguarding.

There are at least three reasons which make this support essential. The first is that it has not been the priority in the past, and so there is lost ground to be made up. The second is that the Scottish Bishops, in line with the position of His Holiness Pope Francis, have made it clear that they want this to be the priority for the Church. It would be extremely damaging were they to make this strong statement of policy and then fail to match the words with actions. The third reason is that reaching out to the wounded to seek their healing is central to the faith proclaimed by the Church. Nothing will do more to restore the public credibility of the Catholic Church and to bring peace to the Church itself, than to take positive and determined steps to meet the needs of survivors.

The policy and practice manual "Awareness and Safety in our Catholic Communities" should be completely revised or rewritten.

Since "Awareness and Safety" appeared, it has been added to and improved. But safeguarding theory and practice have developed extremely rapidly in recent years, and it is unwise to hope that the present document can continue to reflect best practice. The new document must be revised or rewritten in such a way that every part of it carries the authority of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland. It must make clear what the policy and practice of the Church is with regard to survivors, and it must give proper emphasis to the paramountcy principle.

There must be external scrutiny and independence in the safeguarding policies and practices of the Church.

There is no other way for the Church to escape from the suspicion of "cover-up" and secrecy, which has done it much harm. Difficult decisions will be involved for the Bishops' Conference of Scotland: decisions about the way in which independence can be introduced and about the areas of safeguarding in which independent elements will apply. These are difficult decisions, for it will not be a straightforward matter to harmonise such decisions with the authority of the Bishop in his diocese. The courage shown by the Bishops in appointing this Commission suggests that they are ready to face such decisions.

Effectiveness and improvement must be measured at every level of safeguarding in the Church.

A clear and open system of measuring effectiveness and improvement in terms of quality, as well as quantity, must be introduced. The Church must be in a position to assure its members, the public and the Government that it can provide evidence that it is a safe place, and that it is becoming safer and safer. Non-compliance with requirements, such as 'Protecting Vulnerable Groups' clearance and safeguarding training, must not be tolerated.

A consistent approach to safeguarding is essential: consistent across different parts of Scotland and consistent across different parts of the Church.

Much damage has been done – to survivors and to the credibility of the Church – by the complications of church administration when the circumstances surrounding Fort Augustus began to emerge. There may be legal and structural reasons why religious congregations are subject to different authority from diocesan Bishops, but that separation is not evident to those who have suffered: they feel that they have suffered at the hands of "the Church". Consistency of approach between different authority structures must be enforced. Consistency of approach is also vital across dioceses. Survivors of abuse and those accused of abuse must be treated in the same way in every part of the country. Only then can it be assured that each is receiving the most appropriate treatment possible.

Justice must be done, and justice must be seen to be done, for those who have been abused and for those against whom allegations of abuse are made.

Both survivors and individuals accused of abuse are entitled to the full protection of the law. Nothing must be done by the Catholic Church which would deny any person the full protection of the law, just as nothing must be done by the Catholic Church which would protect any person from the penalties of breaking the law. His Holiness Pope-Emeritus Benedict XV1 was responding to victims and survivors of abuse when he declared that the Church must "ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected".

The priority of undertaking regular high-quality training and continuous professional development in safeguarding must be understood and accepted by all those involved in safeguarding at every level.

There is no place in safeguarding for paying "lip service" to the necessity of good training: the risks are too high. There is no place for creating training schemes without making absolutely sure that everyone participates in them. There is no place for the view that once in a lifetime is enough training. Training must be both general and specific. Everyone must know the law; everyone must know the paramountcy principle and everyone must know what abuse is. In addition, each person must know the particular responsibilities belonging to his or her role. Training produces good practice and develops confidence. The knowledge that everyone in the Catholic Church involved in safeguarding undertakes regular high-quality training will be a great reassurance to members of the Church, members of the public and survivors.

The Church must set out a theology of safeguarding which is coherent and compelling

When all of the recommendations in this report have been accepted and acted on, the Church will still not have done enough to demonstrate the centrality of safeguarding in its life and work. No Catholic may be left in any doubt about the importance of safeguarding. Safeguarding must be at the heart of the Church's administration, its worship and its theology. For example, safeguarding should be a standing item at every meeting of the Bishop's Conference and at every diocesan executive meeting; guidance should be given to parish priests about the inclusion of safeguarding in the liturgy and preaching of the Church and the Church should set out a clear and simple theology of safeguarding, which emphasises that the protection of the weak is not merely a Christian duty, but a divine privilege.

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