The Catholic Church in England and Wales has welcomed the recent report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse relating to the institutional response of the Church in its duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
In a joint statement Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon thanked the IICSA Panel for their work and emphasised that the report would now inform the on-going reform and improvement of safeguarding in all aspects of the Church’s life.
The report makes uncomfortable reading for any catholic. It is highly critical of both senior personnel within the Church, the Church itself and the Vatican. Cardinal Nichols comes in for a particularly strong rebuke: he had shown “no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change” … nor did he “demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined,” the report said.
The inquiry said the Catholic Church’s “explicit moral purpose has been betrayed by those who sexually abused children, and by those who turned a blind eye and failed to take action against perpetrators”.
It also said the cardinal, who apologised for the Church’s actions when he gave evidence, “did not always exercise the leadership expected of a senior member of the Church, at times preferring to protect the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Rome”.
The report said two previous inquiries into abuse in the Church, by Lord Nolan in 2001 and Lady Cumberlege in 2007, brought change and improvements, but their recommendations were implemented too slowly and not in full.
The Church’s response at times was woeful, the inqury found. Internal correspondence dating from 2016 between members of the diocese of Westminster’s own safeguarding commission described an abuse victim as “manipulative” and “needy”.
Such a response to a victim highlights that “real and lasting changes to attitudes have some way to go if the Catholic Church is to shake off the failures of the past.”
There is also criticism for the Vatican, with the inquiry describing its actions as in “direct contrast with Pope Francis’ public statement on child sexual abuse”.
In 2019, the Pope called for “concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church”.
However, the Holy See did not provide a statement to the inquiry and the Papal Nuncio at the time refused to give evidence. This was his legal right, the inquiry said, but was it the correct response?
The report, the latest in a series of publications from the IICSA, said child sexual abuse was “far from a solely historical issue”, adding that more than 100 allegations of abuse had been reported each year since 2016.
Between 1970 and 2015, the Church received more than 3,000 complaints of child sexual abuse against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church, the inquiry found.
Those complaints involved over 1,750 victims and complainants but the report said the true scale of abuse was much higher and would likely never be known.
Following the publication of the report Cardinal Nichols said he was “sorry and ashamed” over the Church abuse scandal and in their joint statement the Cardinal and Archbishop McMahon described abuse as “an evil act against the most vulnerable;” emphasising that “it must never be excused or covered up.
“Abuse committed against children and the consequent damage to people’s lives cannot be undone. For this, we apologise without reservation, and we are committed to listen attentively to the voices of those who have been abused.”
The report will now be considered in detail by the Bishops, at their Plenary Assembly beginning next week.
There is a separate Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry which is examining the Catholic Church in Scotland.
Picture: Cardinal Vincent Nichols.