I am a solicitor working in the field of child abuse compensation claims. For the last eight or nine years I have seen a steady rise in the numbers of claimants coming forward to complain about abuse from priests or those working in church run schools and institutions. I have been genuinely shocked by the cover-ups that have been exposed.Churches are just like any other large organisation. When they are criticised they attempt to defend themselves. Uniformed services do it; public limited companies do it. A defensive response is to be expected. What is not acceptable, however, is individuals attempting to cover up for others within the organisation. I have found evidence of just this type of practice going on repeatedly in church organisations. There seems to be a dysfunctional institutional dynamic which works against the safeguarding of children. Churches seem to be putting themselves above the protection of children.
In the past we have trusted church organisations, but in the same way that we lost trust in the police to regulate themselves (culminating in the creation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission), churches should now be regulated by an independent body.
The Stop Church Child Abuse campaign is an alliance of clergy sexual abuse survivors, support groups, specialist lawyers and interested individuals working in the field of child safeguarding. We have come together to highlight the serious safeguarding failures of church institutions.
The Call for an Independent Inquiry
Clergy and church officials hold important posts and are highly trusted and respected within our society. They have unquestioned access to children and the most vulnerable. We have been aware of increasing numbers allegations of abuse by clergy since the early 1990s.
For 20 years the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Church of England/Wales have repeatedly stated that they will respond appropriately to reports of child sexual abuse, and numerous safeguarding/child protection procedures have been put in place. Despite these assurances and procedures produced, there have been repeated court cases in which clergy and church officials have been convicted of multiple child sexual offences, often dating back and continuing for decades and involving a number of children.
Repeatedly, prosecutions have revealed that church authorities covered up past reports of child abuse and allowed clergy to remain in post despite allegations and in some cases past convictions for child sexual offences. In many reported cases further child abuse took place. The James Robinson case in 2010 involving the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham, the recent convictions of monks and priests at Ealing Abbey, Buckfast Abbey, the Cotton and Pritchard case in 2008 and subsequent Church of England Diocese of Chichester Inquiries (2010, 2011 and ongoing 2012) are just the latest examples. It is also concerning that in church-run schools Ofsted inspections have marked some outstanding when either known abusers have been working at the school, or the schools have inadequate child protection policies.
- From my research between 542 and 1,776 abusing priests have gone un-prosecuted.
- Church safeguarding procedures allow Bishops to keep allegations away from the police and social services.
- There have been recently discovered cover-ups in which Bishops have protected clergy.
- Bishops can decide for themselves whether to even have a priest risk assessed.
- There are very recent examples of Bishops allowing sex offending priests to work with children.
- The churches allow convicted sex offenders to be ordained.
- The institutional dynamics of the churches prevent effective child protection and are putting children at risk in 2012.
The Catholic Church
It is clear from the ongoing appalling cases coming into our courts that at no time in the twenty years that we have known about clergy perpetrating child sexual abuse in this country have Catholic Church leaders shown themselves capable of conducting an inquiry into the institutional failings to protect children.
The recent church commissioned inquiries into Downside, Buckfast Abbey and Ealing Abbey will not result in any change of hearts or minds or institutional dynamics within the Catholic Church which continue to protect its reputation, resources and the clergy at the cost of the safety of the most vulnerable.
The Church of England and the Church of Wales
Whilst the press and public have to date focused on the failings within the Catholic Church similar events have gone unreported in the Church of England.
The current Church of England safeguarding procedures do not adequately protect children from risk of abuse by those already known to be accused. As with the Catholic safeguarding procedures there is no compulsion to report allegations of abuse. Bishops and other church officials have too much discretion.
Only a public inquiry into the thousands of cases of child abuse perpetrated within Dioceses and Church run institutions will reveal both the extent of the abuse that has been perpetrated and also the institutional dynamics within the Church that enable such abuse to be covered up and to continue for decades, even into the 21st Century.
These two organisations have proved unable to police themselves and we call for a statutory body to regulate their responses to allegations of abuse.
The campaign is calling on the Government to set up an Independent Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy, religious and other church officials within all Dioceses and institutions of the Catholic Church in England & Wales and the Church of England and in Wales.
We recommend that the following changes are enacted into legislation :-
1) Mandatory reporting by church and religious leaders of all allegations of child abuse perpetrated by those in positions of trust and authority within churches and religious institutions.
2) An independent statutory body to receive reports of abuse, to monitor and review safeguarding procedures within the Roman Catholic Church and its religious institutions and the Church of England and in Wales. Such a body should have powers to carry out regular and planned inspections, make recommendations for improvements and enforce compliance, as well as to inspect at no notice where substantive cause for concern arises.
David Greenwood is a Solicitor working for Jordans Solicitors.
Tel: 01924 868911
Fax: 01924 868915