Catholic Church put reputation before children's welfare - report

Vincent Nichols was accused of failing to show compassion to abuse victims.Reuters

The Catholic Church "turned a blind eye" to child abuse and was more concerned about protecting its reputation than ensuring children's welfare, a damning independent report has found. 

The report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said that the Church had "betrayed" its own moral purpose of caring for the innocent and vulnerable by allowing abusive priests to prey on children. 

"[F]aith organisations are marked out from most other institutions by their explicit moral purpose. The Roman Catholic Church is no different," the report reads.

"In the context of the sexual abuse of children, that moral purpose was betrayed over decades by those in the Church who perpetrated this abuse and those who turned a blind eye to it.

"The Church's neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and vulnerable." 

According to the 147-page report, the Catholic Church received over 900 complaints involving over 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015. 

Since 2016, there have been over 100 reported allegations a year. 

But the report says that abuse was "swept under the carpet" and that "resistance to external investigation was widespread", meaning that "true scale of child sexual abuse is likely to be greater than these figures". 

It also accuses the Church of failing to support victims while instead seeking to protect perpetrators. 

"The evidence in this investigation has revealed a sorry history of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales," the report said.

"There have been too many examples of abusive priests and monks preying on children for prolonged periods of time.

"Responses to disclosures about sexual abuse have been characterised by a failure to support victims and survivors in stark contrast to the positive action taken to protect alleged perpetrators and the reputation of the Church." 

Elsewhere, the report says that "little progress has been made to ensure that victims and survivors have access to the pastoral and therapeutic support". 

The report does not spare Catholic leader Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who stands accused of failing to show compassion towards victims. 

"As the figurehead and the most senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Catholics look to Cardinal Nichols to lead by example," IICSA said.

"During the final public hearing in November 2018, he apologised for the Church's failings, noting that this was a source of 'great sorrow and shame for me and, indeed I know, for the Catholic Church'.

"But there was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change. Nor did he demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined." 

It added: "His acknowledgement that 'there is plenty for us to achieve' applies as much to him as it does to everyone else in the Church.

"He did not always exercise the leadership expected of a senior member of the Church, at times preferring to protect the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Rome."

Commenting on the findings, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, Chair of the Inquiry, said: "For decades, the Catholic Church's failure to tackle child sexual abuse consigned many more children to the same fate.

"It is clear that the Church's reputation was valued above the welfare of victims, with allegations ignored and perpetrators protected.

"Even today, the responses of the Holy See appear at odds with the Pope's promise to take action on this hugely important problem.

"While some progress has been made, there still needs to be lasting change to culture and attitudes to avoid repeating the failures of the past."

Responding to the report, Cardinal Nichols and Malcolm McMahon, Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: "We apologise to all victims and survivors who have not been properly listened to, or properly supported by us.

"By listening with humility to those who have suffered, we can contribute to the healing of the wounds of abuse, as well as learn from those most directly affected how we must improve the Church's safeguarding standards, policies and procedures."

They continued: "Abuse is an evil act against the most vulnerable; it must never be excused or covered up. Abuse committed against children and the consequent damage to people's lives cannot be undone. For this, we apologise without reservation, and we are committed to listen attentively to the voices of those who have been abused.

"This report is an important moment in our safeguarding journey in the Catholic Church in our countries. It will now be considered in detail by us, the Bishops, at our Plenary Assembly beginning next week so we can explore how to integrate the findings of this important Inquiry into the life and work of the Church in order to consistently safeguard children and the vulnerable."