Martyn McLaughlin: Church still to keep its promises on child abuse

The former Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
The former Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
0
Have your say

Catholic Church in Scotland has vowed to change its ways over child abuse, but actions speak louder than words, writes Martyn McLaughlin.

Nearly five years have passed since the Catholic Church in Scotland took the first tentative steps on a journey many hoped would close the yawning gulf between its public statements and private deeds when it came to abuse.

In November 2013, the Scottish Catholic Bishops asked the Very Reverend Dr Andrew McLellan, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, to carry out an external review of safeguarding protocols and procedures.

The subsequent report, published in August 2015, became known as the McLellan Commission. Its recommendations were plentiful but two were key. Firstly, it stated that “support for survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority”; secondly, it emphasised that “justice must be done and justice must be seen to be done for those who have been abused and for those against whom allegations of abuse are made”.

In the aftermath, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Scotland’s most senior Catholic, said the church would accept the recommendations in full and offered 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”.

Speaking during mass at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, he added that the church’s response to survivors had often been “slow, unsympathetic or uncaring”, and he pledged that it would now “reach out” to survivors.

Fine words, yet it took until April this year for the church to respond to the McLellan Commission’s recommendations with the publication of In God’s Image, a safeguarding manual designed to uphold the highest standards of care and protection.

READ MORE: Inquiry finds vulnerable children were abused by nuns and priests

A spokesman for the church said the publication brought to a close the two-year long period of implementing Dr McLellan’s recommendations. “Everything requested in the report has now been completed,” he said.

Come the end of September, at the beginning of their Ad Limina visit to Rome, Scotland’s eight Catholic Bishops had a private audience with Pope Francis, during which Archbishop Tartaglia presented him with a copy of the 88-page tome. The Vatican has not commented on whether the Holy Father has a wonky kitchen table, but in the absence of any shoogly legs, it is hard to see how the publication will serve any kind of practical purpose.

To all extents and purposes, the document is a framework of policies, protocols, and procedures. But it can – and must – offer much more than that. It should be a declaration of compassion and empathy towards those whose trust and faith was preyed upon.

The first real test of it, and the church, came last week with the first interim report by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), which determined that children in two Catholic residential homes were systematically abused and dehumanised.

READ MORE: Leader comment: Child abuse inquiry’s first report is a call to action

The inquiry heard of a litany of graphic physical and sexual suffering. Lady Smith, the commission’s chair, upheld allegations by residents that they were sexually abused by priests, a trainee priest, nuns and lay members of staff.

She heard how Bernard Traynor, who was ordained as a priest in 1977, had sexually abused several boys transferred from Smyllum Park in Lanark to a home in Newcastle between 1970 and 1979. The church knew about Traynor’s crimes by 1994, since he admitted them to his Diocesan bishop, yet he was not laicised until 2012.

It emerged on Monday that ten survivors are to sue the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, the Catholic order which ran the Smyllum Park and Bellevue House homes.

The Daughters of Charity has previously offered a “sincere” and “heartfelt apology” to anyone who suffered abuse while entrusted to its care, but what of the church, the organisation whose actions and procedures were followed by it and other orders?

It may be the case that 12 women and one man have been arrested and charged in connection with the horror that was meted out the most vulnerable at Smyllum Park, and a due process has to be followed. But neither criminal nor canonical law can justify the church’s old, familiar silence. Not when the SCAI’s remit includes scrutinising the relationship between the church and the order, and the role it played in connection with the residential care of children.

Only this year, Dr McLellan said he was “astonished” it had taken the church so long to establish contact with survivor groups, and there remain victims robbed of their childhoods who say the silence continues. Take Paul Smith and Andi Lavery, who suffered at the hands of Father Paul Moore in Ayrshire. The 82-year-old was jailed for nine years in April, but Mr Smith and Mr Lavery said the church had not contacted them. Earlier this month, the Right Reverend John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley, bucked with tradition when holding mass at St Mirin’s Cathedral, and got on his hands and knees before lying prostrate in front of the altar.

It was symbolic act of penance, but such gestures have long since rang hollow.

Those who assumed the church’s repentance would spur it into action now know better. Their respect for the institution lies in tatters, and as the gulf between public statements and private deeds grows, a great faith is being tested.