LEICESTER, United Kingdom – All those involved at every level of safeguarding in the Church need to guard against complacency, according to the chairperson of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission for England and Wales.
“Clear leadership throughout the Church is crucial. Bishops and congregation leaders must be vigilant in exercising their ministry of leadership, ensuring that a culture of safeguarding is both understood and embraced by the whole Church,” said Chris Pearson, in the forward to the commission’s annual report for 2018, released on Thursday.
The commission only covers England and Wales, since Scotland has its own bishops’ conference and Northern Ireland is covered by the Irish bishops’ conference.
During the past year, the report noted that 156 people made child-related allegations against 125 individuals, an increase of 6 percent in the number of accused individuals compared to 2017. The most common type of alleged abuse or concern raised was related to sexual behavior, with 104 allegations.
The report included allegations against clerics, members of religious orders, and lay people.
“The Church referred 62 percent of allegations and concerns to statutory agencies. In the remaining cases, 28 percent were already known to statutory agencies and the remaining 10 percent were not reported to statutory agencies due to there being insufficient evidence or the allegations or concerns appearing to be unsubstantiated, there being no safeguarding issue or the victim not consenting to the referral,” the report said.
Turning to allegations of abuse of adults, the report said 77 people made adult related allegations against 69 individuals, an increase of 50 percent in the number of accused individuals from 2017, and an increase of 123 percent from 2016. Just under half – 49 percent – of the allegations related to sexual behavior.
The report also highlighted the work being done to build a safeguarding culture in the Church, and Pearson warned against perceiving safeguarding as “reactive” or “something to be feared.”
“Safeguarding is about keeping people safe from harm, but it is also about positively promoting and celebrating what is done well and the value of every human being,” he said.
Pearson highlighted the key role played by the Survivors Advisory Panel, whose members “continue to influence the strategic work of the NCSC.”
The panel – which ensures survivors have a unique role in developing safeguarding structures – has been praised by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the Vatican and used as a model for similar bodies in the Philippines and Brazil.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the NCSC report is “totally without any sense of complacency.”
Nichols noted that since safeguarding reports for the Church in England and Wales began being published annually in 2002, they have told a “story of progress made, difficulties encountered, effort expended and challenges that lie ahead.”
He said it is “a story that needs to be heard.”
“The challenge of our response to the presence of sexual abuse within the Church continues to be urgent and of vital importance: Heeding the voice and experience of survivors and responding to them; responding promptly to the surfacing of allegations; cooperating fully with public authorities; strengthening programs of education and awareness raising,” the cardinal said, adding that the report “covers these and other aspects of this part of our mission and points to the challenges that lie ahead and will require our determined response.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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