Cardinal apologizes for abuse as English bishops overhaul safeguarding structures

Cardinal apologizes for abuse as English bishops overhaul safeguarding structures

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, prays inside London's Westminster Cathedral March 22, 2020.(Credit: Marcin Mazur/Courtesy Bishops' Conference of England and Wales via CNS.)

England’s top prelate expressed his “profound sorrow and apologies” on Friday, after he was personally singled out in a scathing report on clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – England’s top prelate expressed his “profound sorrow and apologies” on Friday, after he was personally singled out in a scathing report on clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, had been faulted for not acknowledging “any personal responsibility to lead or influence change” and not demonstrating “compassion towards victims” in a report issued Nov. 10 by the government-established Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

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Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Nichols said abuse is a “terrible wickedness” that “can destroy, or severely damage, a person’s capacity for trust and love. It can create of a life an empty shell.”

“I say again: I am so sorry. I say this for many bishops who have gone before me over these 50 years. Many hearing this will feel that we let you down. Yes, we did let you down in many ways, in different times, in different places, for different reasons. I apologise again. I am so sorry for all that has happened over these years,” the cardinal said.

His remarks came after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales fall meeting, where the prelates discussed the IICSA report and looked at the recommendations of an independent safeguarding review of the Church in the country.

During the meeting, the bishops approved all the recommendations of the safeguarding review, which will suppress the current safeguarding bodies and create a new Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency, with powers of effective audit and oversight of safeguarding in both dioceses and religious orders.

The review also recommended establishing a National Tribunal Service to not only adjudicate cases brought to it, but also to educate Church bodies on the canonical structures dealing with abuse.

“It is proposed that a National Tribunal Service (NTS) is established which will address the canonical matters connected to clergy discipline and canonical offences. It will exercise jurisdiction exclusively in the canonical forum. However, its competence will not be limited simply to the role of adjudication, as its operational activity will extend to preliminary case evaluation as well as formation in professional regulatory procedures, evidence and other matters of canonical penal law (substantive and procedural). This will provide confidence that published standards are being upheld, and offers the possibility of enhanced impartiality, transparency and decision making in line with the practice of other professional regulatory bodies,” the report reads.

The review panel also recommended the adoption of eight safeguarding standards that provide a framework against which all safeguarding practice across the Church can be assessed, including: Embedding safeguarding in the Church’s leadership, governance, ministry, and culture; communicating the Church’s safeguarding message; engaging with and caring for those that have been harmed by abuse; effective management of allegations and concerns; the support and management of respondents; robust human resource management; training and support for safeguarding; and quality assurance and continuous improvement in safeguarding standards.

One eyebrow-raising recommendation was a proposal to suppress the Survivors Advisory Panel, which was established to ensure that the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales receives appropriate and timely information and advice from the perspective of survivors, so it can inform safeguarding policies, procedures and practices.

After members of the Vatican’s commission for the protection of minors in 2018, the format was recommended as a model for other countries.

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The safeguarding review noted that “it is imperative that the voice of those that have been harmed through their involvement with the Church, is heard and learnt from, but added that “working within a formal committee is often challenging.”

“The contribution of each person is more easily supported through personal conversations and opinions shared,” the document said, recommending a “reference panel” of survivors be established to work with the new safeguarding body for England and Wales.

According to Ian Elliott – the author of the independent review – this change was made due to his conversations with abuse survivors.

“They actually see themselves as having a greater voice by creating a variety of ways in which survivors can contribute their wisdom and make that available to the Church, and that is very critically important,” he said in response to a question from Crux.

“The suggestion of not placing reliance on a committee approach or a panel approach solely – where people are coming together and talking on good basis – it actually comes from what the individual survivors themselves have said to me: They don’t feel comfortable,” Elliot continued.

“They want to contribute, but they don’t like being in a room with people they don’t know and being identified in a certain way. They want other ways to contribute, other ways to talk and share,” he said.

However, Elliot said the bishops are not “ruling it out,” but are just “looking at a variety of ways in which we can maximize the contribution of the greatest number of people who have been hurt by the Church and who want to help improve what happens in the Church and to share their learning and wisdom with the Church.”

Bishop Marcus Stock of Leeds, the vice-chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, added that “there is no question that the Survivors Advisory Panel will cease to exist” in its current format, but that doesn’t mean a similar body won’t also be constituted.

“There is the wish to extend the facility to other survivors to take part in the important safeguarding work of the Church … Some feel comfortable in the committee structure, and others would not do so,” Stock said.

“I think this needs to be looked at very carefully, but there is no question that the Survivors Advisory Panel is just simply going to go, and there will just be individual relationships. I think it is likely there is going to be both: We are going to extend the range and opportunity for survivors’ voices to take part in the Church in the future,” the bishop added.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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