Archbishop ‘Torn’ over Child Abuse Statistics

By Martha Linden
The Scotsman [Britain]
Downloaded October 27, 2003

A senior clergyman spoke today of how he felt “torn” following the revelation that nearly 150 complaints of abuse about priests and church workers in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales were received last year.

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, said the statistics made him feel “very uncomfortable” but at the same time were proof that the church was making progress in the area of child abuse.

“I feel torn because on the one hand I am very uncomfortable when it is clear that there are more people coming forward and saying that priests in the past have behaved very wrongly,” he said.

“And yet on the other hand I am pleased, when to be coming forward, and in a way an increasing number of people coming forward, means that we are effecting gradually the changes that we want.

“It actually means that people are growing in confidence in the response that they will receive when they do come forward.”

Mr Nichols, who is chairman of the board of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA) was speaking at the launch in central London of the body’s first annual report.

A total of 148 complaints were received by the 22 Roman Catholic dioceses in England and Wales last year – 132 related to sexual abuse and 16 to physical abuse.

The figures related to anyone working with children and vulnerable adults either in the laity or the clergy.

The complaints ranged from allegations which merited referral to the statutory authorities for further investigation and lower level concerns where action needed to be taken internally.

Eileen Shearer, the non-Catholic independent director of COPCA, warned that the statistics were not comprehensive and did not include religious orders.

She added that some of the statistics related to allegations from the past being brought forward for the first time.

The report outlined “substantial progress” in implementing child protection policies within the church.

Nine out of 10 of the 2,663 parishes in England and Wales have appointed child protection representatives and more than 200 training sessions in rooting out child abuse have taken place in dioceses, the report revealed.

The report comes after recommendations made by Lord Nolan on child protection in the Catholic Church were published nearly 18 months ago.

Between 1995 and 1999, 21 of the 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of offences against children.

Ms Shearer said the report marked the beginning of a new approach to child protection in the Catholic Church.

She said: “I do not see the report as an occasion for self congratulation or for complacency.

“It is intended to be an honest account of the progress that has been made not just by COPCA but throughout the church.

“It is intended clearly to demonstrate that Lord Nolan’s requirement of transparency and accountability is heeded.”


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