Catholic Church in Scotland issues apology for child abuse
Dr Andrew McLellan, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and one-time chief inspector of prisons, was asked in 2013 by the Catholic Church in Scotland to lead a review of how it handles allegations of abuse, tasking it to take evidence from victims in a bid to improve support services and protect vulnerable children and adults.
At a press conference in Edinburgh, Dr McLellan set out the findings of his 11-member commission, saying during the conference that “Support for the survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland.
“The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland should make a public apology to all survivors of abuse within the Church. An apology must be made in a way that is unmistakeable and unequivocal.”
He added: “the bishops have said from the outset that they will accept our recommendations. “That means that three things will happen. First and most important a beginning will be made to heal the hurt and address the anger which so many survivors feel.
“Second, the Catholic Church in Scotland will begin to confront a dark part of its past and find some healing for itself.
“Third, a significant step will be taken in restoring public credibility for the Catholic Church.”
The report also recommends that the Church’s safeguarding policies and practices be completely rewritten and subject to external scrutiny.
Dr McLellan said: “Our report gives the Catholic Church a chance – an unrepeatable chance – to make things better.
“If this opportunity is not taken, survivors will know there is no hope left for them within the Catholic Church in Scotland. If this opportunity is not taken, many Catholics who are longing for a new beginning will feel betrayed by their Church. If this opportunity is not taken, the public credibility of the Catholic Church in Scotland will be destroyed.
“I believe our report gives the bishops the beginning of a way to change. The way to change which they all say they want – from secrecy to openness, from systems which allow evil to survive to systems which ensure that good is done.”
Shortly after the press conference the Catholic Church in Scotland issued a “profound apology” to victims of child abuse. Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said Scottish bishops were “shamed and pained” by the suffering of those who had been harmed. During a Mass in Edinburgh he said: “As the president of the Bishops’ Conference, and on behalf of all the bishops of Scotland, I want to offer a profound apology to all those who have been harmed and who have suffered in any way as a result of actions by anyone within the Catholic Church.
“Child abuse is a horrific crime. That this abuse should have been carried out within the church, and by priests and religious, takes that abuse to another level.
“Such actions are inexcusable and intolerable. The harm the perpetrators of abuse have caused is first and foremost to their victims, but it extends far beyond them, to their families and friends, as well as to the church and wider society.” And he added: “We say sorry. We ask forgiveness.
“We apologise to those who have found the Church’s response slow, unsympathetic or uncaring and reach out to them as we take up the recommendations of the McLellan Commission.”
One of the main recommendations of the commission was for a consistent approach to dealing with allegations across Scotland and improved training for those in the Church. The commission was set up in November 2013 by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland in response to a series of scandals, including the resignation of disgraced cardinal Keith O’Brien.
He stepped down from the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February 2013 after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.
As part of its work, the commission heard from victims of abuse but its remit did not extend to investigating or ruling on current or historical allegations.
ts members included Malcolm Graham, Assistant Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Ranald Mair, chief executive of Scottish Care, and Kathleen Marshall, former Commissioner for Children and Young People.
Alongside the review, the Catholic Church in Scotland published details of diocesan safeguarding audits from 2006 to 2012 giving a breakdown of incidents reported during that time.
A total of 46 allegations were made, of which 55 per cent related to sexual abuse, 19 per cent to physical abuse, 11 per cent were allegations of verbal abuse and 15 per cent were in connection with emotional abuse.
Of those accused, 56 per cent were priests, 22 per cent were volunteers, 11 per cent were parishioners and the remainder were staff or other people connected to the Church.
There have been no prosecutions in relation to 61 per cent of all cases reported, the church said.
Details of incidents are now published annually, with 15 allegations made in 2013, six of which were historical.
It also announced a third measure of a review of all cases of historic abuse allegations between 1947 and 2005, to be published at a later date.
The McLellan Commission has made eight recommendations to Scotland’s Catholic bishops to improve the current standards of safeguarding within the Catholic Church.
• Support for survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland in the field of safeguarding.
• The policy and practice manual “Awareness and Safety in our Catholic Communities” should be completely revised or rewritten.
• There must be external scrutiny and independence in the safeguarding policies and practices of the Church.
• Effectiveness and improvement must be measured at every level of safeguarding in the Church.
• A consistent approach to safeguarding is essential – consistent across different parts of Scotland and consistent across different parts of the Church.
• 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.
• 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.
• The Church must set out a theology of safeguarding which is coherent and compelling.