LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Before beginning their ‘ad limina’ visit to Rome, the bishops of England and Wales said they spent time together to reflect on the “stark revelations of child sexual abuse” in the Church and will discuss the issue with Pope Francis on Friday.
The bishops also announced an independent review of the Church’s safeguarding structures in England and Wales.
Every bishop in the world is supposed to make an ‘ad limina’ visit every five years, where they visit the Vatican to meet the pope and officials of the Roman Curia.
In a statement issued at the beginning of their visit, the bishops said the recent reports about abuse “make it clear” that bishops and other religious leaders “failed to protect the children in their care from those who have done them great harm.”
“In particular, the failures of bishops to listen or give credence to those who have courageously spoken out about the profound damage they have suffered through childhood abuse, together with the steps some have taken in order to cover up or minimise the abuse that became known, are a great betrayal of the trust placed in them by the faithful and of the responsibilities that come with episcopal office,” the statement said.
In the United States, the double blow of the revelation that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – the former Archbishop of Washington – had been credibly accused of abusing a minor as well as having a series of relationships with seminarians and young priests, and the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailing 75 years of clerical abuse and cover-up by Church authorities, has left the Church reeling.
In the United Kingdom, an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been looking into abuse at Catholic institutions – and others – since 2014.
The inquiry was established by the British Home Office – which oversees similar areas as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security – but is independent and does not answer to the government.
The inquiry recently released a report on serial abuse in two Catholic prep schools in the north of England, and on Tuesday will begin preliminary hearings on the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
“These recent reports, shocking as they are, have caused us to reflect again on our own leadership and on the responsibilities we hold in England and Wales for ensuring that safeguarding is embedded in every aspect of the life of the Church,” the bishops said, and “the impact and consequences of the shame and sorrow we feel” will be a part of their conversation with Francis on Friday.
“We have endeavoured to build a culture of safeguarding within the Church’s parishes and religious communities in England and Wales, thereby providing a safe environment for all,” the bishops’ statement said.
The bishops also announced they have asked the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission to set up an “entirely independent and comprehensive review” of the safeguarding structures that currently operate within the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
“Importantly, we will seek to ensure that the voices of the victims and survivors of abuse, through the Survivors Advisory Panel established by the NCSC, fully inform the review and its recommendations,” the statement said.
“Each bishop has decided that he will take steps to set aside time for the purpose of meeting with victims and survivors of clerical abuse who live in his diocese. This will be done in cooperation with the Diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator, to assist the bishop in responding in the best possible way to those who speak to him, in his pastoral role as their bishop, of their pain, hurt and anger.”