Abuse in 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.
The inquiry 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- External auditing – These independent reports should be published.
- 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 against the child.
- Having a Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service website and policies and procedures manual
- 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.
Abuse in the Church of England
An interim pilot scheme has been drawn up to initially compensate 10 survivors. A statement read ‘The pilot scheme is designed to enable the Church to respond in particular to those survivors’ cases which are already known to the Church, where the survivor is known to be in seriously distressed circumstances, and the Church has a heightened responsibility because of the way the survivor was responded to following disclosure”.
Compensation funds have now been approved by the Church’s Cabinet, the Archbishops Council. Initial estimates suggest compensation will amount to potentially £200 million.
The scheme will look to compensate these 10 individuals as a ‘pilot’ before finalising the full Redress Scheme which will then be opened up to the masses. At this time, it is unclear what the times scale will be for this.
The Church of England compensation scheme follows the ongoing investigation and criticism by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The IICSA has held several hearings into abuse in the Church or England and the Catholic Church The finalised report is still awaited, such hearing being delayed by the current covid pandemic. The inquiry’s report is expected to heavily criticise the Church of England for its failure to act on disclosures of abuse and to treat survivors with compassion by protecting clergy at the expense of children and vulnerable adults
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, and Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, have previously both given evidence in person to the IISCA, apologising for abuse and its cover-up. The Archbishop of Canterbury, told it that
He was ashamed of the church and abusers should go to prison. ‘These decisions feel like a turning point. We continue to pray for survivors and all those the Church has failed.
A separate 2017 investigation by the IICSA into abuse by former bishop Peter Ball found the church failed to protect boys and then concealed evidence of Ball’s crime and prioritised its own reputation above the needs of victims. Ball was jailed for 32 months in 2015 for sexual abuse against boys carried out over three decades. Ball was allowed to remain in the Church after accepting a reprimand for his behaviour in 1993.
The redress scheme has been publicised as the turning point in the Church’s treatment of survivors abused by bishops, clergy, churchwardens, employees, volunteers, congregation members and people with church connections. The Archbishops’ Council also committed the Church of England to greater independence and transparency in the way it deals with abuse. The scheme has been a long time coming for many victims whose complaints were never investigated or dismissed.
Reporting of both current and historical abuse in the dioceses have risen experientially based on the initial data disclosed in the last few years. In 2017 there were 3,287 complaints, compared with 2,195 in 2015. It is understood the increase is from vulnerable category victims.
It is predicted thousands of individuals will come forward to apply to the scheme who may not have already disclosed their experiences The criteria an applicant will be required to meet to be eligible to apply to the scheme and the finer details of the compensation awards tariff available has yet to be disclosed at this time. It is thought the scheme with cover sexual abuse, physical and psychological abuse.
Abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reported being in receipt of a large number of complaints in respect of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK. This can only suggest, tragically, many have been subjected to abuse whilst practising within the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
The structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK (and worldwide) has been analysed by the Court of Appeal in England and it has been found that liability can attach to the congregations for sexual abuse committed by members. The abuser does not have to be an elder and neither does the abuser have to be a current member as long they were a member when the abuse occurred.
The structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is complicated and so is the law surrounding potential liability. Therefore, it is important to take advice from solicitors who understand the structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their practices, procedures and policies and importantly, the law regarding vicarious liability and negligence.
The abuse team at Hugh James has a proven track record in acting for survivors of sexual abuse within religious institutions and within the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK. The solicitors in the abuse team understand the structure of the Jehovah’s Witness UK and the barriers to reporting sexual abuse which many members face.
If you have experienced abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK, please get in touch using the phone or envelope icons on this page.
How can we help
Whichever course of action you choose, our lawyers have many years’ experience of working with survivors of abuse and will always have your best interests at heart. You’ll find us sensitive to your needs, expert at listening, and thoughtful and considered when explaining the options open to you.
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