Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Clergy 'lack the will to tackle child abuse'

Clergy 'lack the will to tackle child abuse'
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:53AM BST 17 Jul 2007

Complacent bishops and demoralised clergy have hampered the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to overhaul its child abuse policies after a series of scandals, according to an official report published today.

Church leaders have lacked the willpower fully to implement the reforms to combat paedophile priests recommended five years ago by Lord Nolan, the former law lord, it said.

Although the Church is now a safer place than it was, it risks "a serious reversal" if it fails to introduce further urgent changes, warned the report by a commission headed by Baroness Cumberlege, the former health minister.

It urged the Church to beef up its child protection agency, refine the way allegations against priests are investigated and rewrite Church law to ensure that its leaders face consequences if they fail to implement its policies.4s will embarrass the bishops, including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Church in Enlgand and Wales, who came under pressure to resign over his role in the scandals.

The cardinal nevertheless welcomed the findings yesterday, saying that they would be carefully studied before the bishops formally responded later in the year.

The Cumberlege commission, established to review progress since Lord Nolan's report in September 2001, says poorly trained Church leaders are still playing down the harmful effects of child abuse.

"This, coupled with some resistance to change and a fear and suspicion that the authority of the leadership is being undermined, has impeded the delivery of consistently good - let alone excellent - safeguarding arrangements," it says.

The commission's report acknowledges that almost all of Lord Nolan's 83 recommendations have been accepted, including the creation of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca).

But it argues that the "culture of constant vigilance" envisaged by Lord Nolan has not been fully embraced, partly because poorly trained bishops have lacked the willpower to push it through in their dioceses.

"It is clear from the evidence before us that the will needed to do so is patchy," says the report. "In part this is due to a growing confidence - some would say complacency - that with the establishment of Copca child protection has been adequately addressed.

"In part it is due to a lack of preparation and a willingness to train and be trained.

"We are concerned that five years after Lord Nolan reported, bishops and congregational leaders may be minimising the distressing consequences, the harmful impact and the anguish that follows in the wake of child abuse."

The report said that Copca should be reformed and given greater powers and priests could demand a review of the way they had been investigated.

Eileen Shearer, the head of Copca, resigned on the eve of the submission of the report. The church denied her departure was linked to the contents of the publication.

More than 500 people who claimed they were abused by Roman Catholic clergy in the archdiocese of Los Angeles are due to receive more than £500,000 each. The deal came on the eve of a court hearing into the first of 15 civil lawsuits lodged against the archdiocese and individual priests.

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