LONDON (UNITED KINGDOM)
BBC [London, England]
May 19, 2021
By John McManus
The former chief crown prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang cases has been appointed as the chairman of the Catholic Church’s new safeguarding body in England and Wales.
Nazir Afzal’s appointment was welcomed by two survivors of abuse, who said “a seismic shift in culture” was needed.
The body will be able to sanction clergy who do not meet standards.
It comes after the Church was heavily criticised for its response to child abuse by an independent inquiry.
Mr Afzal, a practicing Muslim, previously served as the chief crown prosecutor for north-west England and director in London, as well as the chief executive of the Police and Crime Commissioners.
He was responsible for bringing sex traffickers in the Rochdale grooming gang scandal to justice, as well as Stuart Hall, the former television presenter who in 2014 was convicted of multiple sex offences against children.
The Church hopes the new Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) will help to enforce professional standards relating to child safety on its clergy and dioceses.
The agency says it will implement a new action plan which will have the power to sanction clergy and dioceses who do not meet its standards on child safeguarding.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) found that between 1970 and 2015 the Church received more than 3,000 complaints of child sexual abuse against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church.
The IICSA’s final report on the Church said that its head in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, appeared at times to care more about the impact of abuse on the Church’s reputation than on the victims.
At the time Cardinal Nichols said he was “deeply sorry” to anybody who suffered and he must learn from the IICSA’s findings.
Two members of the Catholic Survivors England group, who participated in the IICSA, said in a joint statement that they were “very encouraged” by Mr Afzal’s track record with victims and survivors.
“A seismic shift in culture is needed within the Church’s safeguarding processes and it’s interaction with victims and survivors,” they added.
Mr Afzal said that in the past three decades he had learned that “victims have been failed by every institution who were responsible for safeguarding them” and “how reputation was thought more important than exposing those who abuse”.
“The Catholic Church has recognised the failures of the past and the need to put things right,” he said. “This is what attracted me to the role.”
He added that he would operate “without fear of favour” in his role.
Cardinal Nichols said Mr Afzal brought the “freshness and vast experience” required to make the CSSA “a truly significant step change” in the safeguarding work of the Church.
“Mr Afzal has a proven reputation for being a champion of victims and survivors of abuse in many different institutions and settings,” he said.
Richard Scorer, a lawyer at Slater & Gordon who has represented survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church, said: “A key issue now is whether… CSSA genuinely has the enforcement powers to override resistance in church institutions.”
Additional reporting by Becky Morton
If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, or have been affected by the themes in this article, you can go to the BBC Action Line for support.