The Church must do more to rebuild trust in the wake of the abuse scandal

Scottish Catholic Observer
February 7, 2020

An audit of two Scottish dioceses reveals scale of healing abuse wounds but some progress is being made, reports Peter diamond

More work is needed in building trust, an independent audit of safeguarding practices in two Scottish dioceses has recommended.

Both the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh and Galloway Diocese welcomed the report, which was published on Thursday, January 30, yet reviews of safeguarding processes within the two dioceses have noted ‘healing’ was still ongoing and called for more support for abuse survivors.

The audit of measures taken to protect children and others from sexual abuse was commissioned by the

Independent Review Group (IRG), which was established by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland in 2017.

Its role is to help ensure the implementation of recommendations made in a comprehensive report into safeguarding in the Catholic Church in Scotland by the McLellan Commission in 2015, led by former Moderator of the General assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Rev Dr Andrew McLellan.


The IRG is an autonomous body that works separately from the Catholic Church and is chaired by the former Labour politician and journalist Baroness Helen Liddell.

Two of Scotland’s eight dioceses are chosen randomly and audited each year, so that all of them are audited over a four-year period. The audits are designed to support the ongoing commitment to safeguarding improvements within the Catholic Church.

Commenting on the publication, Bishop Joseph Toal, president of the Commission for Pastoral and Social Care, said: “On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, I welcome the publication of the IRG report and thank the IRG for their work. I know the audits have been both thorough and rigorous and that they will be studied carefully by both dioceses.

Heart of Church mission

“Safeguarding is at the heart of the Church’s mission and the maintenance of high standards is only possible through independent scrutiny and a commitment to implement any recommendations proposed.”

The report noted that progress had been made in St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese despite ‘difficult circumstances,’ including the prior management of the archdiocese by Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Cardinal O’Brien, who died in March 2018, stood down in February 2013 after admitting sexual misconduct and was replaced by Archbishop Leo Cushley. The report concluded that more work was needed to ‘repair and build trust in safeguarding processes’.

Constructive help

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said: “We very much welcome the work of the Independent Review Group for Safeguarding and the external review that SCIE has completed for our Archdiocese. We found the process helpful and constructive.

“We are reassured and encouraged that the safeguarding improvements we have implemented over the last six years have been recognised and validated and we look forward to developing these processes further to ensure that our churches continue to be safe and welcoming places for everyone.”

The report also said leaders of the archdiocese needed to employ a more ‘supportive approach’ to ‘understand and empathise’ with the view of survivors or risk an increase in divisions between the Church and abuse survivors. Such issues are likely to affect other dioceses, the report said.

Nonetheless, the audit also found that ‘a priority had been given to safeguarding’ which reflected that ‘this is set by the strong leadership of the Archbishop.’ Commenting on the audit’s recommendations, Archbishop Cushley said: “It is the responsibility of all people in our Church community, clergy and laity alike, to ensure the Church is a safe and welcoming place for everyone and that children and vulnerable adults are protected.

“Each of our parishes has a safeguarding co-ordinator, working with approved volunteers, who support our priests and I extend my thanks to them for their excellent work. Safeguarding in the Church is a priority and I believe that is reflected in the processes our Archdiocese has implemented and continues to develop.”

Paul Moore

The audit of Galloway Diocese revealed the damage caused by the historical abuse carried out by former priest Paul Moore. He was jailed for eight years last February for abusing three boys and was removed from the priesthood. Some of the offences occurred more than 40 years ago.

The report said there were ‘divisions and strong emotions’ for the people Moore abused, adding that previous responses by the Church had ‘not been professional’ and that contact with survivors was ‘poor.’

There was a need, the report added, to ‘tackle the contradictory narratives’ regarding the case which continued to ‘challenge and act as a barrier to healing.’

However, more positively, it said the diocese had begun to work with survivor organisations and the appointment of a diocese safeguarding advisor had been a ‘turning point’.


A spokesperson for Galloway Diocese said: “The diocese is pleased with the final report and believes it will be a valuable and constructive tool. The aim of the audit was to work with the diocese to support safeguarding improvements and all those involved believe that this has been achieved.

“We are pleased the report has reflected the fact that while safeguarding has always been important, it has become a higher priority strategically during the past three years.”

The report said Bishop of Galloway William Nolan had been ‘more visible than the previous incumbent,’ had ‘taken time to know the issues’ and was ‘working hard to convey the model of importance of safeguarding.’

Commenting on the report, Bishop Nolan said: “I am grateful to all those who work so tirelessly with Galloway Diocese to ensure our safeguarding standards are as high as possible and am particularly gratified to note that our diocesan safeguarding adviser has been commended for working ‘well beyond what is expected in order to achieve the outcomes currently seen.’

“The diocese is committed to supporting best practice in all its safeguarding work and shares entirely the auditors’ conclusion that ‘a focus is now needed on sustaining current improvements.’”

This year, the dioceses of Motherwell and Aberdeen will be audited.


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