The Catholic Church in Scotland had planned to invite an independent academic to compile a report on each diocese’s “secret archives” and each bishop’s handling of allegations, which would then be made public.
However, Cardinal O’Brien, then the president of the Bishops’ Conference, refused to co-operate and the planned inquiry was shelved, Archbishop Conti wrote in a letter to be published in the Catholic newspaper the Tablet today.
Cardinal O’Brien was forced to resign in March after admitting “inappropriate behaviour” with priests and a seminarian, and is currently in an unknown monastery for a period of “prayer and penance” ordered by Pope Francis.
In a letter defending the Catholic Church in Scotland’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse, Archbishop Conti wrote: “It was the intention of all but one member of the Bishops’ Conference to commission an independent examination of the historical cases we had on file in all of our respective dioceses and publish the results, but this was delayed by the objection of the then president of the conference; without full participation of all the dioceses the exercise would have been faulty.”
A spokesman for the Church said: “This refers to a decision taken in 2011 by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to commission an independent academic analysis of statistics relating to abuse and allegations of abuse over a 60-year period from 1952 to 2012.
“This project, with the cooperation of each of the eight dioceses in Scotland, started and ran until 2012, at which time, the then president of the conference, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, withdrew from the project. Without the participation of all the dioceses a ‘national audit’ was not possible so the analysis was stopped.”
Cardinal O’Brien was president of the Bishops’ Conference from 2001 to 2012.
A source close to the Church said that Cardinal O’Brien could have feared that his own clandestine behaviour may have been revealed during the inquiry or that he was anxious to cover for individuals who were aware of his secret life.
The source said: “We just don’t know why he blocked the inquiry. Perhaps there was also a spike in allegations during his years in charge or he would have been seen to have mishandled them.”
Archbishop Conti also wrote: “I understand that in the light of the criticisms the Church has been facing, these audits will now be published. I think they will go some way towards confirming Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell remarks that the percentage of priests involved in abuse is ‘tiny’, and in demonstrating the seriousness and competence with which the Church in Scotland has been dealing with safeguarding in all its implications for many years.”
The Catholic Church in Scotland has been scandalised in recent months by Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation and a recent BBC Scotland documentary detailing decades of sexual abuse at Fort Augustus boarding school in the Highlands, and its preparatory school, Carlekemp Priory near Edinburgh, run by Benedictine monks, both of which are now closed.
Child protection is due to be discussed by the Scottish bishops when they meet in the first week of September but a national strategy is unlikely to be decided on until Monsignor Leo Cushley, the new Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, takes over on 21 September and other bishops are appointed to existing vacancies.
It is understood that the current president of the Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia, is cautious about backing an independent inquiry until all the vacancies in the conference are filled.
However, there are growing demands for an independent inquiry into the Scottish Church’s handling of abuse allegations similar to one in England and Wales conducted by Lord Nolan in 2001. A second inquiry was led by Baroness Cumberlege in 2007.
Last week, Danny Sullivan, the chairman of England and Wales’ safeguarding commission, said there should be an independent inquiry in Scotland.
And Alan Draper, a retired deputy director of social work who led the Catholic Church in Scotland’s initial response to child abuse allegations in the 1990s, said an independent inquiry was the only way for the Church to act as it was now “totally discredited”, and any inquiry should also examine Cardinal O’Brien’s behaviour.
Mr Draper said that while the allegations against the cardinal do not involve minors, he believes they come under the safeguarding category as those who alleged misconduct could be classed as vulnerable adults.