Herald View: Church chair must ensure openness

Herald Scotland
December 6, 2016

BARONESS Helen Liddell – former Scottish Secretary and former aide to Robert Maxwell – is used to taking on some of the trickier appointments in public life, but she has started her latest one with some tough talking. As chair of the group overseeing the response of the Catholic Church in Scotland to historic sex abuse, Baroness Liddell says there will be no box-ticking. Writing in The Herald, she also promises that, although a Catholic herself, she will be independent and fearless. A light will be shone into every corner of church procedure, she says.

Naturally, it is going to take time to judge whether the Independent Review Group under Baroness Liddell can be as effective she promises it will be, but in laying out an uncompromising manifesto, its first chair is off to a good start. The credibility of the Catholic Church in Scotland rests on it doing everything possible to ensure abuse does not happen again. Baroness Liddell is also right to say solace and support must be provided to survivors.

However, in taking on the job, Baroness Liddell also appears to acknowledge that the process so far has not always been handled as well as it could have been. Last month, Dr Andrew McLellan, chair of the commission which investigated abuse in the Church and recommended the establishment of the review group, said the process was not proceeding as it should. Dr McLellan and six other members of the commission said a lack of action by the bishops was in danger of confirming survivors’ fears that the recommendations for change would be ignored. It was a serious accusation from a respected figure.

At the time, the church’s response was robust to say the least. Dr McLellan had been given two years to write his recommendations, it said, and the church should be given the same time to implement them. It also said an implementation plan had been published and that a review group was being established. The members of the group were in the process of being confirmed, said the church, and their preferred candidate had already accepted the role of chair.

We know now that that candidate was Baroness Liddell and that she is committed to ensuring that the McLellan Report is implemented quickly and in full. However, she will also know that there are lessons to be learned from Dr McLellan’s frustration. His report does not appear to have been shelved or sidelined as feared, but the fact that Dr McLellan and some of his colleagues believed it had been demonstrated that the Catholic Church in Scotland still has an important lesson to learn about how it communicates.

One of Baroness Liddell’s most important jobs as chair of the review group will be to ensure that the Church learns that lesson and she seems to understand that. Once she gets started, she says, her aim will be to ensure that there is transparency in the work of the group, which is exactly the mission statement that is needed. The Catholic Church in Scotland is making progress on this difficult issue, but an important priority for it and the new Independent Review Group is to ensure that the progress is seen to be made too. Then the survivors of abuse can do what Baroness Liddell says they must: judge the review group by its actions.


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