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Introductory Comment on Child Protection Review

posted on 12 September 2000

Last month I invited Lord Nolan to chair a Review Committee to examine arrangements made for child protection and the prevention of abuse within the Catholic Church in England and Wales. He very kindly agreed to do this. As an introduction to today's proceedings, I wish to say something about the background and the reasons for establishing such a committee.

Child abuse, whatever form it takes whether physical, sexual or emotional, is an evil to be utterly condemned. It often leaves deep and life-long scars on its victims and on their families. Our hearts go out in compassion to those who are the victims of child abuse.

It is particularly abhorrent when a child or young person is abused by a Church worker, priest, religious or lay. These are people who hold positions of trust and responsibility in the Church. It is grievous and shameful that child abuse should have occurred and been perpetrated by people who have explicitly dedicated themselves to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Over the last 20 years there has been a great increase in the public understanding and awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child abuse. A number of high profile legal cases and judicial inquiries have served to expose the extent of what was previously unknown or hidden.

In the 1990's, alongside other institutions, Churches and voluntary bodies in our society, the Catholic Church recognised the need to put in place policies that effectively resist the evil of child abuse. In 1994 the Church published a document, Child Abuse - Pastoral and Procedural Guidelines. This set out procedures to enable the Church to work more effectively with statutory and voluntary agencies in dealing with allegations against priests, religious or Church workers. The 1994 Guidelines dealt primarily with how allegations of abuse should properly be dealt with and recommended procedures which were well received and have worked well.

Bishop Budd, who chaired the working party which drew up the 1994 Guidelines, emphasised in the preface that 'these guidelines are of a provisional nature and will need to be kept under review and updated in the light of experience of dealing with these matters in the community'.

During the past five years it has emerged that these guidelines need updating. Public policy has moved on. Today there is now very rightly much more emphasis on preventative steps which can and should be taken in the interests of child protection in addition to ensuring that allegations are dealt with properly when they arise. I am anxious that our Guidelines are looked at carefully and recommendations made to myself and to my fellow bishops on ways in which they can be developed and improved.

At their November meeting last year the Bishops set up a small committee under the chairmanship of Bishop Peter Smith to examine how the guidelines have been working in practice. This mainly internal committee was to report to the November meeting this year of the Bishops' Conference. Earlier this year the indications were that they would recommend there was a need to review the guidelines and to update them.

Meanwhile the case of Michael Hill of Arundel and Brighton diocese, which received much publicity three years ago, was again brought into the public domain, in July of this year, a few months after I became Archbishop of Westminster. Added to that, a few other cases affecting the Catholic Church in England and Wales were coming to the fore in recent court proceedings.

It was against the background of the forthcoming report to the Bishops' Conference of Bishop Peter Smith's mainly internal committee, and the impending court proceedings, that I decided, with the support of the bishops, to set up a high-powered independent committee. On 4th August I invited Lord Nolan to chair it, which he kindly agreed to do.

You have a copy of the terms of reference of this Review Committee and also the names of those who have agreed to be members. The Nolan Review, as we are calling it, will provide a completely independent assessment of our existing procedures, and its report will be made public. I am confident that the report and its recommendations will be of great help to the Catholic Church in England and Wales in enabling us to improve our guidelines and so ensure that child protection is, and continues to be, of the highest priority in the life of the Church.

I am now very happy to hand over to Lord Nolan and his panel. Among his very many qualifications for this task is the fact that for three years he acted as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I am indeed grateful to him for undertaking this task. With Lord Nolan on the panel are two other members of the Review body: Gill Mackenzie, Chief Probation Officer for Gloucestershire and Chairman of the Association of Chief Probation Officers, who has also kindly agreed to serve as a member, and Bishop Peter Smith, Bishop of East Anglia. As I mentioned, he chaired the internal committee which recently looked at the Guidelines, and he will present the outcome of their deliberations and their recommendations to the Nolan Review.

The Catholic Church has not and must not have anything to hide in its handling of the problems of child abuse and child protection. Recent experiences have made me quite determined to do all I can to ensure that the Catholic Church sets up and maintains the highest standards in this regard both now and in the future.

We bishops do not deny that there were errors in the past through inadequate measures. For my own part, so far as the Michael Hill case is concerned, I have already expressed both in personal letters, and in public in the media how truly sorry I am for what happened in this case. But I say more. In the preface to the 1994 Guidelines, Bishop Budd made a full and sincere apology on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales. I want here and now in their name to reiterate and renew that apology, which reads as follows:

'I wish to apologise sincerely to the survivors of abuse and their families and communities, particularly when there has been abuse by people exercising responsibility in the Church. They have been hurt, not just by the abusers, but also by mistaken attitudes within the church community at all levels. I acknowledge that far too often there has been insensitivity and inadequate response to their hurt'.
The errors of the past must not be repeated.

The Most Rev Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Archbishop of Westminster

Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 12 September 2000

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