Tuesday, July 27, 2010

UK Catholic child protection agency criticises Vatican

UK Catholic child protection agency criticises Vatican
National Catholic Safeguarding Commission calls for abolition of statute of limitations on prosecution of priests over child abuse
Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 July 2010 17.08 BST Article history
St Peter's Square, Vatican City. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The head of child protection for the Catholic church in England and Wales has said the Vatican should remove the statute of limitations on prosecution of of priests for child abuse offences.

William Kilgallon, the chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC), argued that the time limit was unhelpful and failed to reflect the long-lasting effects of abuse.

He described the Vatican's recent decision to double the time period from 10 years to to 20 as "better than it was", but said he would have preferred its abolition.

He was speaking at the launch of the NCSC's annual report, which highlighted developments in the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

When asked to comment about the latest guidelines from the Vatican, Kilgallon replied: "It is good the time limit has been extended; my advice would have been to remove any limit. It is better than it was, but I would have preferred to see the removal of limits entirely."

He explained that the church in England and Wales was becoming more aware of the serious impact of abuse, and how the effects persisted with people into their adult lives. Events late in life could trigger feelings and trauma, forcing people to relive their experiences, he told the press conference.

"Very often, people who have been abused don't report things. They think they won't be believed," he said. What happens is, they see someone else has talked, and that gives them the confidence to come forward."

The panel asserted its independence from the Vatican by saying local churches were not waiting for instructions on how to deal with sexual abuse.

Sister Jane Bertelsen said: "The Vatican can be given a hard time. I'm not saying there aren't issues that need developing, but we have been blessed to have worked on this. In Europe, it has exploded.

"The Vatican has its own culture, and it is taking time. Huge steps have been made, and we have to be a little patient. It is in a different time and a different place. It's the local churches who are really having to tackle this problem. We are not waiting for the Vatican to tell us what to do."

One of the priorities for the NCSC is to work harder at helping survivors of abuse. The church, at a local and international level, has often been accused of looking after its own interests rather than those of victims.

Kilgallon accepted that despite the desire to help survivors, those very people sometimes found themselves facing formidable legal obstacles when pursuing damages.

"There is a tension between duty to the individual and duty to the protection of our own resources," he said. "There are pressures on everyone from the insurance companies. The church doesn't escape from that, and it's one of the things we have to deal with."

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