Catholic Church apologises to victims of abuse

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THE Catholic Church in Scotland has issued a “profound apology” for decades of child abuse as survivors described a landmark report into the issue as a “whitewash”.

In a statement made during a mass at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow yesterday, Scotland’s most senior Catholic archbishop, Philip Tartaglia, begged forgiveness from victims, saying the Church had been “shamed and pained” by what had happened.

The McLellan Commission's findings are set to be published. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The McLellan Commission's findings are set to be published. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

It followed the publication of a report by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who said safeguarding victims and potential victims was the “greatest challenge” facing the Church.

The McLellan Commission, which was established last year, was charged with undertaking a review of the Church’s procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults.

It made eight recommendations, the chief of which was that the Catholic Church must make support for survivors of abuse an “absolute priority”,

Archbishop Tartaglia said the Church would accept the recommendations in full.

I would like to assure the survivors of abuse that the Catholic Bishops of Scotland are shamed and pained by what you have suffered. We say sorry. We ask forgiveness

Archbishop Tartaglia

He said: “As the President of the Bishops’ Conference, and on behalf of all the Bishops of Scotland, I want to offer a profound apology to all those who have been harmed and who have suffered in any way as a result of actions by anyone within the Catholic Church.

“Child abuse is a horrific crime. That this abuse should have been carried out within the Church, and by priests and religious, takes that abuse to another level. Such actions are inexcusable and intolerable. The harm the perpetrators of abuse have caused is first and foremost to their victims, but it extends far beyond them, to their families and friends, as well as to the Church and wider society.

“I would like to assure the survivors of abuse that the Catholic Bishops of Scotland are shamed and pained by what you have suffered. We say sorry. We ask forgiveness.”

He said the Church’s response to survivors had often been “slow, unsympathetic or uncaring”, and he pledged that the Church would now “reach out” to survivors.

Among the recommendations of the McLellan Commission was a call for the Church’s safeguarding manual, Awareness and Safety in Our Catholic Communities, to be “completely revised or re-written”.

Dr McLellan also called for “justice to be done and to be seen to be done” for those who had made allegations of abuse.

He said: “The Bishops have said from the outset that they will accept our recommendations. That means that three things will happen.

“First and most important, a beginning will be made to heal the hurt and address the anger which so many survivors feel.

“Second, the Catholic Church in Scotland will begin to confront a dark part of its past and find some healing for itself.

“Third, a significant step will be taken in restoring public credibility for the Catholic Church.”

He added: “This is the greatest challenge facing the Catholic Church in Scotland. Change will come when the whole membership of the Church owns this desire for change and embraces the agenda set out in our report.”

Dr McLellan said his team had spoken to 24 survivors of abuse during the writing of the report.

“Nobody thinks an apology is enough, but an apology is essential. For the Catholic Church, an apology will lead to repentance and repentance will lead to action.”

Asked about the need for financial reparations from the Church, he said: “The Catholic Church has already said it’s entirely appropriate for people to seek reparation. The courts have said that as well. There will be difficult discussions between the Catholic Church and its insurance company, but these conversations must take place. Nobody pretends, however, that any amount of money can buy back a lost childhood or a ruined adulthood.”

Dr McLellan said the Church’s treatment of disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned after allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour were made against him by three priests and a former priest, showed how secrecy was still an “important part of the atmosphere” surrounding the Church.

Asked whether he was confident abuse within the Church had stopped, he said: “I’m not confident of that. That’s as much to do with how difficult it can be to interpret the behaviour of very devious people who are able to conceal what is happening.

“I’m confident the Catholic Church is determined to put in place policies and procedures to make sure it becomes a safer and safer place.”

But AndiLavery, an abuse survivor who gave evidence to the commission, said the report was a “whitewash”.

He said: “The report says the survivors don’t want reparations, but we bloody do want reparations.

“It’s a tissue of lies. There’s a whole section in the report on theology, what relevance is that to being raped by a priest?

“It’s a nonsense. We disavow the report in its entirety.”

Alan Draper, a spokesman for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said the McLellan Commission had struggled due to being given a narrow brief.

He said: “They weren’t able to look at records or files to see what actually happened and what support was given or not given.

“The recommendations that have been made are a total indictment of what went on in the past because they indicate that safeguarding was virtually non-existent.

“My concern is that the Catholic Church are already beginning to water the report down. There has to be root and branch reform of the whole system. At this stage they’re almost patting themselves on the back, but this is not just a historical problem.”

Mr Draper said it was only with compensation and criminal charges that survivors would begin to believe that action was being taken.

“What we’re looking for is action not pious words,” he said. “Survivors won’t forgive them until they do something about it.”

Figures released by the Catholic Church in Scotland show there have been 61 allegations of abuse made between 2006 and 2013.

A review of all cases of historical abuse allegations between 1947 and 2005, is also to be published at a later date.

Many of the allegations against the Church are expected to be heard by a national public inquiry into historical abuse, which is due to begin in October.

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