LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Cardinal Vincent Nichols has issued a statement admitting to “failures” on handling abuse by church officials ahead of a government-established inquiry into sex abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was established by the British Home Office – which oversees similar areas as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security – in 2014. It is independent and does not answer to the government.
The body is investigating abuse in several institutions, including the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, and different state institutions.
A separate Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry was established in Scotland in 2015 and has also investigated Church institutions, which exist under the jurisdiction of the independent Scottish bishops’ conference.
The investigation into the Catholic Church in England and Wales will take place Oct. 28 – Nov. 8, and Nichols is scheduled to give testimony on Nov. 6 in his capacity as president of the bishops’ conference.
The inquiry has already investigated and reported on the Archdiocese of Birmingham and on the English Benedictine abbeys of Downside and Ampleforth. Another report on Ealing Abbey will be published soon.
“These reports have made clear the extent of failures in the Church and, more importantly, the lasting damage to all those who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse,” Nichols said in the Oct. 24 statement.
“In the last twenty years or so, the evil of the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church has been laid bare. This abuse is both deeply damaging to all those who have been its victims and a scandal against the faith we strive to proclaim,” the cardinal continued.
Nichols said appearing to give testimony will enable him “to offer again an unreserved apology to all who have suffered in the context of the Catholic Church” and enable him to “offer assurance of our willingness to learn further lessons about how to improve and strengthen” the Church’s response to victims and safeguarding standards.
Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the UK first gained pubic notoriety in 2000, when the BBC ran an expose about the mishandling of an abusive priest by now-deceased Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor.
In the aftermath of the scandal, O’Connor asked Lord Michael Nolan to investigate child sex abuse in the Church and the state of safeguarding standards. The Nolan Report published in 2001 made 83 recommendations, including lay oversight of safeguarding issues at the parish level and the establishment of an independent oversight agency.
This has been the blueprint for the fight against sex abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales ever since. Every diocese now has a safeguarding coordinator and safeguarding commission which receives allegations of abuse.
The independent National Catholic Safeguarding Commission is considered one of the best in the worldwide Church. The commission has established a Survivors Advisory Panel so that the voice of survivors can have a significant role in the fight against abuse and the establishment of safeguarding standards, a model which the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors has highlighted for other national bishops’ conferences.
“Much has been achieved. Much is to be learned,” Nichols said.
The cardinal admitted it will not be smooth sailing for the Church, and inquiry will “scrutinize” the bishops’ safeguarding procedures.
“I am sure that this scrutiny will be wide-ranging, and will include comment on the consistency with which our procedures are followed, the effectiveness of our record keeping, the quality of training we offer, the relationship between religious orders and dioceses and many other matters besides. All of this will take place in the context of our record of failures as well as our achievements. All of this will, quite properly, give importance to the voice and experience of survivors,” Nichols said.
Nichols himself received criticism during the Independent Inquiry’s investigation into the Archdiocese of Birmingham, where he served as archbishop from 2000-2009, during which he admitted failures in handling abuse cases.
“All this makes perfectly clear that, as a Church, we share in the sinfulness of humanity. This we know. Yet we also know that Christ came to bear the weight of that sinfulness on the cross,” Nichols said in his Oct. 24 statement.
“With prayer and penance, this time can become, even if only slowly and painfully, a deep purification for our community,” he said.
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