The author of an independent review of the child protection policies of the Catholic Church in Scotland has said he is “disappointed” in the progress the bishops are making in meeting victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse.
Rev. Andrew McLellan, the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, was asked in 2013 to chair an interdenominational commission looking at the issue of child protection in Scotland’s Catholic Church.
The McLellan Report, presenting the findings of the commission, was published in 2015, and said, “Support for the survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland in the field of safeguarding. The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland should make a public apology to all survivors of abuse within the Church.”
In August 2015, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow and president of the Scottish bishops’ conference, said the bishops were “shamed and pained” by clerical sexual abuse and offered a “profound apology” on behalf of the bishops.
“After Archbishop Tartaglia’s public apology, which he did so well, there was a long hard silence, and I was very disappointed in terms of the progress the bishops were making,” McLellan told the Sunday Herald, a Scottish newspaper.
McLellan, who once served as the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said he was pleased with certain areas of progress, like the promised publication of a new safeguarding manual, but said meeting with victims is the priority.
“When our report was published there was a sense that there was a new mood in the Church and it was determined to turn its back on these unhappy practices. I’m astonished that it has taken so long to establish contact with survivor groups,” he told the newspaper.
The McLellan report made 8 main policy recommendations:
- Support for the survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland in the field of safeguarding.
- The “Awareness and Safety” manual [to prevent abuse, introduced in 2007] should be completely revised or rewritten.
- There must be some external scrutiny and independence in the safeguarding policies and practices of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
- 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 Catholic Church in Scotland must set out a theology of safeguarding which is coherent and compelling.
After the report was published, the bishops came up with a plan to implement the recommendations by the end of 2017.
In December 2016, the bishops asked former Labour Party minister Helen Liddell to chair the Independent Review Group to oversee the implementation plan.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland told the Sunday Herald the Church is “close to full implementation” of the recommendations of the McLellan report, and that interaction with survivors continues.
“Crucially, no individual or organization has a monopoly on survivor representation or interaction. Contact with survivors, by its nature confidential, is taking place across the Church. Many survivors do not identify with or join national groups and such groups should not presume to speak for them,” the spokesperson said.
“We apologize 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.”
McLellan’s most recent comments are not the first time he has complained about the implementation of the recommendations of his report.
In November 2016, he told the Herald the bishops were “in danger of confirming the worst fears of survivors and observers by appearing to ignore its recommendations.”
Clerical sexual abuse in Scotland was put under the spotlight in 2013, after a series of reports on the BBC discussed historical cases of sexual abuse in the country.
Most prominently, the state broadcaster produced Sins of Our Fathers, a documentary discussing abuse at Fort Augustus Abbey School. The program accused seven priests of the Benedictine Abbey, which closed in 1999, of abusing students.
The same year, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, then the Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with several young men (the cardinal was never accused of molesting a minor), and stepped down from office.
In 2014, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, with the primary task of assisting local Churches develop their child protection guidelines.
Two abuse survivors, Irishwoman Marie Collins and Briton Peter Saunders, resigned before the term of the commission ended on Dec. 17.
The pope is expected to appoint new members to the commission in the coming weeks.