The invitation to chair this Commission came from the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in Scotland. When I accepted it I made it clear that I did not feel that my first responsibility was to them. My first responsibility was, and has been through all our work, to those who have been harmed; my second, to those who are at risk of harm and my third to all those who are entitled to expect that they will live in a Catholic community in Scotland which is a safe place for all.
Beyond these responsibilities there is a wider responsibility still. The general public has been shocked, distressed and angered repeatedly in recent years by accounts of abuse within different communities and institutions. There is no doubt that the shock, distress and anger are greater still when a church is involved. So the general public has a right to know that things will change – indeed demand to know that things will change. The members of the Commission have always been aware that our work will be held to account far beyond the Catholic Church.
When the Commission was announced, I said that the only credible policy for a church was "no abuse and no cover-up". The only credible and acceptable policy for a church is that no abuse can be tolerated and, where it occurs, there must be a positive and transparent response both in assistance to the victim and justice for the perpetrator. The purpose of this report is to create that response and look at appropriate procedures for the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Bishops invited the Commission to undertake the task, and the opportunity must not be lost.
There are two reasons to hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will take the opportunity offered by this report. One is the recognition by each Bishop, made explicit in the evidence given to the Commission by each one, that the Church has suffered much damage through its handling of cases of abuse and that transformation is necessary. The setting up of this Commission may be seen as a sign of the determination of the Bishops to do what must be done.
The other reason to hope that change will come – and indeed is coming – is the leadership of His Holiness Pope Francis:
"Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk."
Pope Francis, speaking to the victims of sexual abuse by clergy, acknowledged the reality of abuse and made no excuses. He committed the Catholic Church to developing better policies and procedures for the protection of children and for the training of church personnel. Bishops are to take the utmost care to foster the protection of minors and will be held accountable for this.
The powerful words of Pope Francis deal with the abuse of minors carried out by priests. Much of our report does the same. Our scope, however, is wider: we have paid attention to all people who may be at risk and not only minors, and to all who may be abusers, and not only priests.
The fact that the Bishops commissioned a Minister of the Church of Scotland to carry out this review demonstrated an ecumenical trust, which could not have been guessed at in Scotland thirty years ago. I appreciate that generosity of spirit.
1. Homily of Pope Francis at a Mass with a group of Clergy Sex Abuse Victims, 7 July, 2014.