Church Appoints Officer to Stamp out Sex Abuse

By James Doherty
The Scotsman [Scotland]
Downloaded November 19, 2003

THE Catholic Church in Scotland has confirmed its commitment to eradicating child sexual abuse at the hands of its priests and clerics, with the appointment of its first national director of child protection.

May Dunsmuir's appointment yesterday follows a spate of allegations of abuse from across the West of Scotland and beyond.

Speaking at a press conference in the diocese of Paisley, Mrs Dunsmuir, 41, from Prestwick, vowed to "protect all children in Scotland from physical and sexual abuse" and ensure that the Catholic Church "provided a safe environment for children".

Mrs Dunsmuir, who is not a Catholic, is a solicitor and has worked as a Children's Reporter and has previous experience working as a legal and parliamentary officer for the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

In her new role, which she takes up on 8 December, she will be responsible for ensuring priests follow child protection rules after the Church was rocked by a series of scandals worldwide.

The Church said Mrs Dunsmuir would become the "eyes and ears of bishops", adding that police will be called as a matter of course if any claims of abuse are made.

Previously, the Church's child protection regime was run by volunteer experts, with each of the eight dioceses having a child protection committee drawn from social work professionals giving their time free.

The Church came under fire for delays in reacting to calls by an internal working party in 1996 to appoint a child protection supremo. But yesterday, Church leaders said Mrs Dunsmuir's legal and childcare experience was a "tremendous combination" and made her the perfect candidate.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "We needed someone full time with strong legal knowledge as well as child protection experience. Mrs Dunsmuir is a tremendous combination of these things and she will become the eyes and ears of the bishops."

Mrs Dunsmuir has more than 15 years voluntary experience in childcare, the last 12 within her local Baptist Church and she developed her Church's own child protection policy to root out child abuse.

Bishop John Mone, the president of the Catholic Church's Social Care Commission, said: "She is a truly outstanding candidate and brings a wealth of legal, social and practical experience to the Catholic Church in this field. We chose May because she was the best candidate. Her faith did not come into it."

The Church has recently published the second edition of its guideline designed to protect vulnerable children and adults from abuse.

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that 11 test cases for compensation will be heard next June for alleged victims of abuse in Catholic homes.

Lawyer Cameron Fyfe says he has 500 active claims, including 100 from Smyllum Park, in Lanark.

A stream of compensation claims were formally lodged against the Poor Sisters of Nazareth following the conviction of Marie Theresa Docherty, also known as Sister Alphonso, at Aberdeen Sheriff Court in 2000 for abuse in the Nazareth House homes across the country.

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