Part 1 - Background and Context

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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Part 1 - Background and Context
Chapter 1 - Context


1.1 Scotland’s Catholic Bishops, known as the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, announced on 24 November 2013 that they were instigating a range of safeguarding initiatives.

1.2 Three initiatives were announced in a letter read out at all of Scotland’s 500 Catholic parishes. The initiatives are:

  • an immediate publication of all Diocesan Safeguarding Audits from 2006-2012, giving a statistical breakdown of reported safeguarding allegations during those years;
  • a professional external “Review of Safeguarding Protocols and Procedures”, which will review the suitability and robustness of safeguarding procedures; and
  • a Statistical Review of all Historic Cases of Abuse from 1947-2005.

1.3 The “Review of Safeguarding Protocols and Procedures” became known as The McLellan Commission, chaired by The Very Rev Dr Andrew McLellan, CBE, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and former Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. It is the subject of this report.

1.4 Commenting at the time of the announcement, Mgr. Hugh Bradley, General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference said:

“The Bishops are delighted that Dr Andrew McLellan has agreed to chair a review of safeguarding procedures and practice. Dr McLellan is a highly respected Church leader, a dedicated public servant and a man of the highest integrity, we look forward to receiving his report and commit ourselves to acting on it.”

1.5 Commenting on his participation in the review process, Dr McLellan said:

My first concern is to seek the best protection of many vulnerable children and adults. In pursuing that aim, I will be determined to discover the truth and to make clear recommendations.

1.6 A list of Commission Members is outlined at Annex 1.

1.7 The Commission would like to acknowledge that the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and the National Safeguarding Coordinator have been particularly helpful to us in the course of our work.


1.8 The remit of the Commission was to review all aspects of safeguarding policy, procedure and practice within the Catholic Church in Scotland and to make recommendations for improvement that will assist the Church in being a safe place for all.

1.9 In addition to critically evaluating existing systems and arrangements, the Commission met with the full range of interested parties within and beyond the Catholic Church, and listened to expert opinion on best practice. Central to its work, the Commission listened to the experience of survivors of harm and abuse within the Church, although it was not within the scope of the Commission to investigate or adjudicate on current or historical allegations. Rather, we drew on the experience of survivors in terms of identifying what aspects of the approach to safeguarding within the Church have helped or hindered matters being raised and addressed. It also assessed the quality of support which is available to survivors and sought to determine whether there was evidence of improvement and learning in the Church’s response to abuse.

1.10 The task of evaluating the effectiveness of safeguarding policy and practice within the Church, included, but was not limited to, a critical assessment of the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service. It also considered wider aspects of culture and governance which may be relevant and examined how effective the Catholic Church in Scotland is at promoting awareness and ownership of safeguarding as a core part of the life, work and teaching of the Church.


1.11 The wider social context in which the Commission has pursued its work is one of heightened awareness of the issues surrounding the abuse and exploitation of children, both historical and current, across a range of settings, from the Jimmy Savile investigation and similar high-profile cases of abuse by celebrities, to widely publicised cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and Sheffield.

1.12 Correctly, questions have been raised about why the systems of protection that were thought to be in place, failed; why victims were either not heard or not believed when they tried to speak out and the extent to which situations of abuse were known about and either passively ignored or actively covered up.

1.13 The extent of public disquiet has led to both the UK Government and the Scottish Government announcing major Inquiries into child abuse and child protection. The remits of these Inquiries were being finalised at the time of writing this report in May 2015, but it is likely they will seek to address historical events and also make recommendations regarding current and future policy, procedure and practice.

1.14 As with the work of the Commission, the goals of the national public inquiries are to acknowledge the past, allow survivors to be heard, provide an opportunity for both justice and healing to take place and, most importantly, to ensure that the prospect of abuse happening and going un-responded to in the future is eliminated.

1.15 Notwithstanding this Report and the other internal reviews which the Catholic Church in Scotland has conducted, it will be very important that the Church, both in Scotland and UK-wide, cooperates fully and transparently with the planned public inquiries, and acts on any findings or recommendations that may emerge.

1.16 Moreover, although the primary focus of the public inquiries is on child abuse and child protection, the need to ensure consistency of practice in relation to all vulnerable groups, within an overall framework of safeguarding, remains crucial. Nor is this something that is simply a matter for the professionals and public authorities. It is clear that ensuring that harm and abuse are prevented, and any concerns properly responded to in any organisation, institution or community, is everyone’s responsibility. To this end, safeguarding requires grassroots ownership and empowerment.

Terms and Language Used

1.17 The use of the term ‘safeguarding‘ as an umbrella term encompassing both child and adult protection is now commonplace, particularly for institutions and voluntary bodies whose work and focus spans all ages and groups. The Scottish Churches have all adopted the use of safeguarding and there is a Scottish Churches Safeguarding Committee, of which the Catholic Church in Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church are all members. The aim is to share and develop best practice. The English Care Quality Commission defines safeguarding as:

Protecting people’s health, wellbeing and human rights and enabling them to live free from harm, abuse and neglect.

1.18 The UK Charity commission goes even further, saying:

Safeguarding is a term which is broader than ‘protection’ and relates to action taken to promote welfare.

1.19 In other words, safeguarding needs to be an active as well as reactive set of arrangements, designed to enhance the quality of life and experience of those it is focused on.

1.20 At the same time, within the generic framework of safeguarding, the specific arrangements for child protection and adult protection need to be fully compliant with current regulations and guidance on best practice.

1.21 The use of the terms ‘victim‘ and ‘survivor‘, when referring to people who have experience harm and abuse, is the subject of considerable debate. For some, the use of the term ‘victim’ suggests that they are being defined and restricted by the experience. They therefore view the use of the term ‘survivor’ as more positive and empowering. For others, the use of the term ‘survivor’ may tend to play down the impact of the harm suffered and the responsibility of the abuser. For them the use of the term ‘victim’ is a matter of telling it how it is.

1.22 The experience of the Commission in talking with those who have experienced harm and abuse within the context of the Catholic Church in Scotland, was that they favour the use of ‘survivor’, and the Commission has therefore adopted this throughout this report, except where we are quoting or referring directly to the circumstances of being a victim.

1.23 A full glossary of terms used is contained at Annex 2.


The Framework

1.24 Our methodology was designed to capture six main areas of review activity around the central task of ensuring that the Catholic Church in Scotland is a safe place for all. Each of the six areas was translated into a work plan with a small team of Commissioners taking responsibility for each area of activity. The six areas of activity were as follows.

  • To evaluate the effectiveness of current policies, procedures and practices.
  • To review and evaluate the in-built safeguarding mechanisms within the Church, including inspection, continuous improvement and learning.
  • To review whether safeguarding is embedded in the theology and ministry of the Church and identify any barriers to achieving this.
  • To review and evaluate the policies and procedures of the Church to determine whether the Church has been taking appropriate account of the applicable law and the guidance of public bodies.
  • To examine if the structures are in place to allow transparency, accountability, ownership and a consistency of approach towards victims and survivors.
  • To assess how effective communication and liaison is among interested and concerned parties responsible for safeguarding across Scotland.

1.25 The findings from these six areas of activity were then translated into four main headings, which reflect the words of His Holiness Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI when he addressed the Bishops of Ireland on the topic of clerical abuse in 2006. We expand on these in Chapters 2 to 5, but the four main headings identify:

  • The truth of what has happened.
  • Steps taken to prevent it happening again.
  • The principles of justice.
  • Bringing healing.

1.26 In terms of the first of these headings, “the truth of what has happened”, it was not within the Commission’s remit to investigate and formally determine the validity or otherwise of individual cases in which an allegation of abuse from a survivor was disputed by the alleged perpetrator.

Inviting Participation

1.27 We used a number of measures to reach out and invite as wide a range of individuals and organisations to participate in the work of the Commission as possible.

1.28 The Commission was launched with a news release and a media conference in March 2014. A further news release was issued when we opened the secure section on the website.

1.29 The call for submissions went out via the national media across Scotland in June 2014. The website offered a secure environment in which respondents could post information about their experiences via a questionnaire – see Annex 3 for a list of the questions asked. The website also suggested some organisations where people could find help if visiting the website had reawaken old and/or perhaps painful memories.

1.30 The last two questions asked respondents about their willingness to give further information and many of those who used this method of communication did meet with the Commission. There were 32 completed questionnaires and one which was discounted as it did not give identifying information. We also received 12 letters via a virtual office base, and some 28 people made contact directly via the Commission email address. In total the Commission met 24 individuals who were either survivors of abuse or supporters of abused people.

1.31 Prior to individual meetings with survivors, we met with two representatives of survivors groups. The purpose of this meeting was to seek some advice and guidance about our approach and indeed was helpful in assisting with this process. From June to December 2014 we met with those people who had requested or indicated a willingness to meet. There was a wide range of people who came to those meetings. Some people came alone; some came with partners; some with family members; some with non-family supporters and some with the support of the parish safeguarding coordinator. The meetings were conducted in what were assessed to be neutral venues, except one where a Church of Scotland venue had to be used, and were generally attended by two Commissioners.

1.32 A general call for participation in the Commission process was sent out via parish bulletins throughout Scotland in August 2014. So far as it is possible to say, only one response was generated through this means.

1.33 A general notice was also sent to relevant groups via social media network sites by our media adviser at various points during the process.

1.34 We also extended the period of participation by one month to offer a further opportunity to take part.

Taking Further Evidence

1.35 As highlighted above, the Commission was keen to ensure that we listened to as many people as possible. As part of this the Commission visited two dioceses in different parts of the country. Although we did not have the powers to compel individuals and organisations to give formal evidence, we nevertheless invited several people to provide written and oral evidence to selected members of the Commission and to full meetings of the Commission. Everyone who was asked willingly agreed to take part.

1.36 We invited all the Bishops (or representatives where there was a vacancy) and their Advisors, as well as representatives from Religious Orders, to meet with various members of the Commission. A full list is provided at Annex 4.

1.37 The President of the Bishops’ Conference, the National Coordinator, Police Scotland, representatives from social work and safeguarding officers from other churches in Scotland were also invited to provide evidence to full meetings of the Commission. The author of “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997-2013) also provided evidence to the Commission. A full list is provided at Annex 5.

1.38 A list of individuals providing evidence to subgroups of the Commission can be found at Annex 6.

Record Keeping

1.39 There are always concerns about record keeping and destruction of records in dealing with historical cases of abuse. In terms of evidence gathered, confidentiality has always been the primary concern of the Commission. Having discussed all options, and sought legal advice in terms of handling evidence following publication of the report, Commissioners agreed to destroy all evidence on the day of publication.

1.40 As far as the Commission could determine, we did not receive any new evidence of criminal conduct or issues that required to be referred to the police.

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