Saturday, September 26, 2009

Catholic Church urges whistleblowers to report sex abuse priests

Catholic Church urges whistleblowers to report sex abuse priestsRuth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The Roman Catholic Church is urging whistleblowers to speak out against bishops, clergy, monks and nuns who they suspect might be guilty of sexual or other abuse.

Alleged abusers who do not merit a criminal prosecution are to be subject to independent investigation by a national panel appointed by the Church.

The new policies, published by the Catholic Safeguarding and Advisory Service , mark a turning away from the protectionist policy of secrecy of previous generations.

The Safeguarding Manual of the Catholic Church of England and Wales says: “We encourage employees, office holders, volunteers and others who have serious concerns about any aspect of the Church’s safeguarding work to come forward and voice those concerns.

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“This policy document makes it clear that they can do so without fear of victimisation, subsequent discrimination or disadvantage.”

A pilot scheme allowing an investigator to report to a panel chaired by a judge, senior lawyer or member of the social care professions has been set up to examine cases where there is a possible risk, but police have judged there to be no realistic prospect of a prosecution.

The Church reported 50 allegations of abuse of children last year including sexual, physical and emotional abuse as well as neglect. A “significant number” of the allegations related to incidents said to have taken place in the 1970s, with more than half going back 30 years or more. Of the alleged abusers, 30 are clergy.

The allegations made last year have so far resulted in one police caution or warning, three convictions and one jail sentence, the report said.

But no further action was taken by the statutory authorities in 29 cases, the report said, for a number of reasons including insufficient evidence and the death of the alleged abuser.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales underwent sweeping reforms to its child protection procedures following intense criticism about the way it had handled abuse scandals in the past.

The Nolan report in 2001, ordered by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, former Archbishop of Westminster, made a series of recommendations aimed at stamping out paedophile activity in the Church.

Between 1995 and 1999, 21 of the 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of offences against children.

The Bishop of Clifton, the Right Rev Declan Lang, vice-chairman of the commission responsible for the safeguarding policy, said that the Church was feeling “more confident, but not complacent” about its handling of child protection issues.

“What we are trying to do is to encourage and create positive relationships between all members of the Church, young and old,” he said.

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