Catholic Church Is in a Sorry State over Handling of Abuse Cases
By Bill Heaney
March 3, 2016
|Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Brian d'Arcy James star in Spotlight, which chronicles the exposure of abuse by priests|
There are times when saying sorry is completely, utterly and entirely inadequate.
The “profound apology” for the many instances of clerical abuse of children and vulnerable persons from the Catholic Church is one of them.
It’s been a remarkable week of sympathy for sexual abuse sufferers following widespread publicity surrounding the publication of former Dumbarton social work chief executive Alexis Jay’s report on the scandal in Rotherham.
That report has led to the jailing of six people, including three brothers and their uncle, who have been convicted of the “systematic” sexual abuse of teenage girls.
There is more to come.
One can only hope that the Catholic Church is listening and that this news has sent shivers down the spine of the hierarchy.
Archbishop Leo Cushley made confession the theme of his Lenten homily to his St Andrew’s and Edinburgh flock on Ash Wednesday.
The successor to disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who went to school in Dumbarton, should maybe instead have been handing out sack cloth and ashes to his brother bishops.
It is time they admitted in a more generous manner, and in more realistic language, the inadequacy of their response to the McLellan Commission, not to mention the inadequacy of the report itself.
The bishops should immediately embark on making restitution to the victims of these clerical crimes and report the accused to the police, implement stricter safeguarding guidelines and make a firm purpose of amendment to ensure nothing like this happens again.
The McLellan Report was dismissed as “a whitewash” by abuse survivors and commentators after a press conference in Edinburgh.
The bishops’ pathetic response was delivered by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia from the pulpit to a near empty cathedral in Glasgow.
There was a time when Catholics would turn in their graves at the very thought of the bishops calling on a Church of Scotland dignitary to wash their dirty linen in public. But the times they are a changing. Churches stand together when it suits them.
The McLellan Commission on clerical abuse consisted of a panel of “experts” set up in 2013 under the chairmanship of Dr Andrew McLellan, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It was a desperate measure by the bishops to draw the media spotlight away from them.
Dr McLellan was asked to undertake “a review of all aspects of safeguarding policy, procedure and practice within the Catholic Church in Scotland”.
However, the bishops made it clear it was not within the scope of the commission “to investigate or adjudicate on current or historical allegations”.
In other words, the commission investigated with one hand tied behind its back. They were inhibited when it came to investigating the 61 cases of sexual abuse by clergy in the past decade – and the many other unquantified and unreported cases.
One important point the commissioners did make though was to inform the church that its manual of guidelines for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults was flawed. It wasn’t fit for purpose, said McLellan, who invited them to rip it up and start again.
This the bishops did but the recommendations will not be implemented until the end of 2017, if even by then. Does this mean the church will continue to operate with the flawed safeguarding manual? Are children still in danger?
Perhaps the bishops thought their “profound apology” would draw a line under this but it hasn’t. Would it not be better for all concerned if they called in someone like Alexis Jay to investigate without restriction the scandal in Scotland?
A new film, appropriately called Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture on Sunday, is now showing in Scotland. Add that to the Jimmy Savile and Rotherham scandals and this is a controversy that won’t go away.
Scotland’s media, forever reluctant to become involved in matters of religion have, at last, woken up. However, their response compared to that of the Boston Globe, which earned the Pulitzer Prize for its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse by priests in the US city, has been low key.
Catholics in the pews – and many good priests who have clung to their vows in a climate of increasing hostility and undeserved shame – are dismayed by the bishops’ response, especially the time it is taking to bring closure for the victims. Decisive action by the bishops could soften the pain of this purgatory of waiting for the victims.
I put a number of questions about this to the church, whose spokesman told me that my reading of the document was incorrect but failed to explain why.
He added: “The McLellan recommendations, as you put it, have been accepted in their entirety and they are in the process of being implemented.”
The White Flower Alba organisation, which represents victims and has a Catholic priest at its helm, is dismayed.
It says the Scottish government should extend its inquiry beyond instances of abuse happening in residential homes run by public agencies.
Education Secretary Angela Constance says that won’t happen. The clerical abuse took place in premises owned and run by the Catholic Church. The fact that the residential schools involved – and monasteries – do not come under the responsibility of the Scottish hierarchy is a red herring.
The church claims to be universal, so the sooner it gets on with it, the better for all concerned.
What we need now is closure through decisive action, not spin and obfuscation. Justice delayed is justice denied.