Chris Marshall: Only one chance for child abuse inquiry

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said Scottish bishops were 'shamed and pained' by the abuse that had taken place. Picture: Jane Barlow
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said Scottish bishops were 'shamed and pained' by the abuse that had taken place. Picture: Jane Barlow
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There’s a part in the Oscar-nominated Spotlight where a journalist assures an abuse survivor that previous failures to listen to his story will not be repeated this time around.

The film tells the real-life story of how The Boston Globe helped uncover sexual abuse in the Catholic Church amid claims it was systematically covered up by moving paedophile priests to different parishes.

But it also explores how the authorities and the media repeatedly failed to take accusations against the Church seriously.

The film was released just months after the Church in Scotland issued a “profound” apology to victims.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said Scottish bishops were “shamed and pained” by the abuse that had taken place.

But despite a national public inquiry into historical abuse being set up by the Scottish Government, there are worrying signs that the views of survivors are again being ignored.

Survivors will meet education secretary Angela Constance tomorrow to raise a series of concerns about the remit of the inquiry, which they believe is too narrow.

It was a meeting they had to fight hard to get, eventually threatening to boycott the inquiry altogether if the minister would not meet with them.

Under its terms of reference, the inquiry will investigate the physical and sexual abuse of children in care.

That could include borstals, boarding schools and hospitals.

But it won’t include those who were not in care, but were abused by the Catholic Church.

While the Scottish Government has defended the decision to restrict the remit, arguing that to do otherwise would create an inquiry too large to reach conclusions in a few short years, it must surely look again at this decision.

We are left with the very real prospect that two people abused by the same person could get very different forms of redress, depending on where the abuse took place.

In contrast to the position in Scotland, a separate inquiry in England and Wales will investigate religious institutions, as well schools, hospitals and children’s homes.

Four months on from the official start of the Scottish inquiry, very little has been heard from its chair, Susan O’Brien QC.

However, she will today confirm that special measures have been put in place to speed up the hearing of testimonies from elderly and seriously ill abuse survivors.

That welcome decision shows she has listened to warnings about victims dying without getting justice for what they endured.

But she must now go a step further.

Last year saw the publication of the McLellan Commission, which was charged with undertaking a review of the Catholic Church’s procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults.

The commission’s report made eight recommendations, the chief of which was that the Catholic Church must make support for survivors of abuse an “absolute priority”.

Sadly, it seems the national inquiry is still failing to heed the advice issued to the Church.

That Scotland has an inquiry at all is to be welcomed, and Scottish Government ministers should be congratulated for getting this far.

But we only have one chance to get this right.

If the inquiry does not have the full, unequivocal backing of survivors, then it has failed before it has even begun.