U.K. Archbishop: Church Has Lot to Learn [Britain]
October 11, 2003

LONDON - The Roman Catholic Church in Britain still has "a lot to learn" about dealing with allegations of child sex abuse, the leader of the church's national child protection unit said Saturday.

The Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Birmingham in central England, was reacting to a survey answered by 486 British priests. In that questionnaire for a British Broadcasting Corp. program, 75 percent of the respondents said they felt inadequately prepared to deal with claims of child abuse.

"There are no surprises," Nichols said in a statement. "The correct handling of suspicions, allegations or incidences of the abuse of children always involves difficult judgments. Children must be protected. The accused, too, has rights which must be respected.

"Everyone knows that mistakes have been made by the Catholic church in the past. Even now we still have a lot to learn."

Nichols heads the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, which was created to repair some of the damage caused by priests who abuse children. Its creation was one of 83 recommendations made in a report into abuse within the church.

Between 1995 and 1999, 21 priests in England and Wales were convicted of abusing children, and the leader of Roman Catholics in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was accused of allowing abuse by one priest, Michael Hill, to go undetected. Last year, Hill was jailed for indecently assaulting boys.

Nichols said the church was making real progress addressing the issue of sexual abuse, but "the pain and suffering of abuse still remain."

The ICM polling agency sent an anonymous questionnaire to 2,704 randomly selected Roman Catholic priests in England and Wales, but only 18 percent - 486 priests - completed it.

The survey conducted by polling agency ICM found that 58 percent of respondents believed the church inadequately dealt with alleged sex abuse by priests, but only 19 percent of those believed that was because of a cover-up or culture of secrecy.

About 95 percent of the priests questioned said the way the church deals with child sex-abuse claims has improved over the past decade, and 56 percent said they trusted the church to handle problems with its own clergy.

No margin of error in the survey was given. The BBC program will be broadcast Wednesday.


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