Friday, March 18, 2011

Face the truth
Making the Church face up to the truth of abuse
Deanna Delamotta

March 16, 2011

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Why doesn’t the Catholic Church de-frock priests who abuse children? It’s a question that perturbs Richard Scorer as he considers the case of paedophile priest Father William Green, who taught at top Catholic school, St Bede’s College, Whalley Range.

Green admitted 27 assaults on children in his care and was jailed for six years in October 2008 for ‘systematically’ sexually abusing a string of boys over 20 years ago. But Mr Scorer, who acted for Green’s victims against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford – the diocese includes St Bede’s – is concerned that Green has yet to be laicized (de-frocked).

He is also worried by a separate case involving St Bede’s. Over 50 ex pupils, led by Radio 2 folk DJ, Mike Harding, have campaigned for an apology from the Bishop of Salford, over claims that a former rector, Monsignor Thomas Duggan, sexually and mentally abused boys at the school in the 50s and 60s when it was run by the diocese.

Harding, a former pupil though not one of Duggan’s alleged victims, is angry that the apology issued by the Bishop, the Right Reverend Terence Brain, does not go far enough in condemning Duggan, who died in 1968 shortly after leaving St Bede’s for a parish in Blackburn.

This does not surprise Mr Scorer, who is head of serious injury at Manchester law firm Pannone. “I am concerned that the apology has been extremely guarded but sadly this is not unusual. These situations need a full and frank apology. We have been aware of Monsignor Duggan and his alleged abuse of pupils at St Bede’s for some time and have been in discussion with victims.”

For a man who has worked to win compensation for child abuse victims since the early 1990s you’d think the 43-year-old solicitor would be hardened to his subject matter. Yet interviewing countless victims and hearing their harrowing accounts hasn’t made Mr Scorer cold or dispassionate.

And he is still as fired up to do battle on victims’ behalf as when he first came face to face with the lifelong effects of abuse during the North Wales children’s home inquiry in the mid 1990s when 40 places of care were in the spotlight.

He says: “The danger is that once you have sat through hundreds of accounts you can become case-hardened. You have to remind yourself that empathy is all-important. I hope it’s something I’ve always had.”

Between 1999 and 2002 he represented victims of paedophile priest Father Michael Hill, who was convicted of multiple sex offences against children. As a result the Catholic Church was shamed into sweeping reforms of the way it investigates abuse claims. Hill, a known paedophile, was moved to another chaplaincy by former Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, at the time bishop of Arundel and Brighton.

“When the truth emerged, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was under pressure to resign,” recalls Mr Scorer: “But he wanted to stay and try and change the way the Catholic Church deals with child protection and things have changed. Up until then everything was dealt with internally. Now they bring in the police if there is a credible example of abuse. This is the positive side of the ‘compensation culture’ – effecting real change.”

Other high profile Scorer cases include that of Christopher Carrie, who alleged he was abused as a child by Father John Tolkein, the priest son of Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkein. The RC Archdiocese of Birmingham paid Carrie an undisclosed five figure sum in damages.

And in 2005 he acted against leading RC public school Ampleforth College after it emerged that dozens of boys were sexually abused there over a 30 year period. In 2006, he took action against the RC Diocese of Leeds for turning a blind eye to paedophile priest David Crowley who sexually abused altar boys.

So has he got a personal grudge against the Catholic Church?: “No, not at all. I’m not a Catholic, but I married one. It’s the environment that allows abuse to happen that I’m against and the cover-ups where, following allegations, paedophile priests were simply shunted from place to place where they continued to abuse children.

“Now I see a problem on the horizon in Islamic religious schools, or madrassas. Here we have a situation where thousands of children are going for several hours religious instruction a day and the potential for abuse is high. Leading Muslims have also voiced their concern.”

Last month, a Muslim cleric was found guilty of sexually assaulting two young boys. Mohammed Hanif Khan was convicted of three separate sexual assault charges. Khan, 42, now living in Sheffield, committed the crimes against children in his care at a mosque in Stoke-on-Trent. Part of Khan’s role was to lead prayers and give Islamic education lessons to boys at evening classes – just the kind of environment Mr Scorer feels could provide the sinister setting for abuse.

Yet for all his well-meaning principles isn’t he an ambulance-chasing lawyer trying to get the most money for his clients?

“For most of our clients it’s not about the money. For instance, if the Catholic Church had held up its hands up and said ‘we’re sorry’ the victims would have been satisfied. Fundamentally they wanted acknowledgement from the Church that they were wrong.

“The amounts paid out in these cases aren’t huge, unlike the US where you get very big awards because they are made by juries. Here awards are made by judges under the rules of normal personal injury cases.

“They don’t seek to punish the wrongdoer, but to put the victim in the financial position they would be without the abuse. Because so many victims have spent their early lives in the care system the church has argued that as adults they wouldn't have amounted to much anyway.

“I try to get the best settlement possible and to ensure part of that goes towards paying for therapy. Some never get over the abuse but others go on to live a happy and fulfilled life.”

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