End secrecy of confessionals ‘to protect Catholic children’

The Guardian

November 27, 2017

By Owen Bowcott

Child sexual abuse inquiry is told that not reporting suspected incidents should be a crime

Mandatory reporting of sexual misconduct and abolishing the secrecy of the priest’s confessional box are needed to protect children at Catholic schools, the national inquiry into child sexual abuse has been told.

At the opening of a three-week hearing into Benedictine schools, lawyers representing scores of victims have called for fundamental changes to the way the church handles complaints and deals with suspected offenders.

Richard Scorer, of the law firm Slater and Gordon, who represents 27 core participants at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said the failure to make reporting suspected abuse a crime had allowed clerics to evade responsibility.

“A mandatory reporting law would have changed their behaviour,” Scorer told the hearing. “At Downside Abbey, abuse was discovered but not reported and abusers were left to free to abuse again and great harm was done to victims.

“The Catholic church purports to be a moral beacon for others around it yet these clerical sex abuse cases profoundly undermine it … Why has the temptation to cover up abuse been particularly acute in organisations forming part of the Roman Catholic church?”

David Enright, a solicitor at Howe and Co who represents more than a dozen former schoolboys from a Catholic Comboni missionary school – run by an order founded in Italy in the 1860s – said there were more than a million children attending Catholic-run educational institutions in the UK.

One former abuser at the Comboni school had not been punished but moved elsewhere after complaints and eventually became a Scouts commissioner in Uganda, Enright revealed. Removing the privileges of priestly confession would help change attitudes, he suggested.

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