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29 January 2021 | Podcasts | Article by Alan Collins

HJ Talks About Abuse: Roman Catholic Church put own needs before welfare of victims for decades

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In recent weeks we discussed the Church of England failings to protect individuals against abuse as established by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). We further discussed failures of the Church of England in respect of the abuse perpetrated by Bishop Hurbert Victor Whitsey.

Today we turn to the Roman Catholic Church. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published their findings report after 7 weeks of public hearings. The full report can be found here.

The report confirms between the period of 1970 and 2015, the Catholic Church received more than 900 complaints involving over 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse in England and Wales. Since 2016, there have been more than 100 reported allegations each year. However, as with all abuse figures, the true scale of abuse is likely to have been significantly higher.

The report noted the changes brought about by Nolan and Cumberlege inquiries resulted in improvements over the years including more formal handling of reports of child sexual abuse, better training and greater cooperation with the statutory authorities. However, the report found this was in contrast, with slower progress in other areas.

The report found leading Catholic Cardinal, Vincent Nichols, prioritised the reputation of the church’ above his duty to sex assault victims. At the time of writing, Cardinal Nichols has refused to resign despite the report findings that he demonstrated ‘no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change’. This follows IICSA’s 2018 report in which he apologised for failing starting “We humbly ask forgiveness…for our slowness and defensiveness and for our neglect of both preventative and restorative actions”.

The report has found that the Catholic Church repeatedly failed to support victims and survivors, while taking positive action to protect alleged perpetrators, including moving them to different parishes.

The report highlighted the case of Father James Robinson, who was moved to another parish within the Archdiocese of Birmingham after complaints were first made against him. Robinson abused children between 1959 and 1983 before fleeing to the US. He was later jailed in 2010 for 21 years. At the time of his imprisonment, the church still refused to defrock him.

Theinquiry criticised that the Holy See and the Apostolic Nuncio because its ambassador to the UK, did not provide witness statements to the Inquiry despite repeated requests. The lack of cooperation stands in direct contrast with Pope Francis’ statement in 2019, calling for “concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church”.

The report makes 7 recommendations:

  1. Leadership – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Conference of Religious in England and Wales should each nominate a lead member of the clergy for safeguarding to provide leadership and oversight on safeguarding matters to their respective Conferences and the wider Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
  2. Training – Ensure that safeguarding training is mandatory for all staff and volunteers in roles where they work with children or victims and survivors of abuse.
  3. Compliance – Publish a clear framework for dealing with cases of non-compliance with safeguarding policies and procedures. That framework should identify who is responsible for dealing with issues of non-compliance at all levels of the Church, and include the measures or sanctions for non-compliance.
  4. External auditing – These independent reports should be published.
  5. Canon 1395 – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales should request that the Holy See redraft the canonical crimes relating to child sexual abuse as crimes againstthe child.
  6. Having a Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service website and policies and procedures manual
  7. Having a National Complaints policy and escalation process assessed by an independent adjudicator

The final report is due to be put before Parliament in 2022.

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch with Alan Collins or Danielle Vincent.

Author bio

Alan Collins


Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.  Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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