The Catholic Church in Scotland must move from “secrecy to openness, from systems which allow evil to survive to systems which ensure that good is done.”
A commission led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan published a report on Tuesday detailing the failures in the safe-guarding practices of the Catholic Church in Scotland, making eight recommendations, including calling for support for survivors of abuse to be an “absolute priority”.
Mr McLellan, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and one-time chief inspector of prisons, was tasked with evaluating the procedures in place to protect vulnerable children and adults. He said the Church must make an “unmistakeable and unequivocal” apology to survivors of abuse.
Using powerful language on Tuesday Mr McLellan said: “Our report gives the Catholic Church a chance – an unrepeatable chance – to make things better.”
He warned, “If this opportunity is not taken, survivors will know there is no hope left for them within the Catholic Church in Scotland. If this opportunity is not taken, many Catholics who are longing for a new beginning will feel betrayed by their church. If this opportunity is not taken, the public credibility of the Catholic Church in Scotland will be destroyed.
Responding to the findings, Scotland’s most senior Catholic Archbishop Philip Tartaglia has offered a “profound apology” to survivors of abuse within the Catholic Church in Scotland, describing the actions of perpetrators of abuse as “criminal and sinful.”
The Archbishop said “I would like to assure the survivors of abuse that the Catholic Bishops of Scotland are shamed and pained by what you have suffered. We say sorry. We ask forgiveness.”
The McLellan Commission said there is no doubt that a culture of secrecy and cover-up allowed this abuse to remain hidden for many years. It was not the remit of the Commission to investigate or adjudicate on current or historical allegations, however a key part of the process was to listen to the experience of survivors, whose experiences were “accepted in good faith as the lived experience of those who gave it.”
In a harrowing glimpse into the abuse allegations the inquiry has been dealing with, the report details the testimony of one survivor:
“When I was eight years old I was regularly locked in a darkened room by the nun who was my carer and told I was being punished because no-one loved me. The same nun sexually abused me.”
In a brutal example of the alleged breaches and abuses of trust, the person continues goes on: “I told the priest in confession, the priest told the nun and together they raped me. I was still only eight years old.”
The findings of the Commission directly compares the experience of those that of young people abused in Rotherham – around 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013. Children come to believe, or are explicitly told, that what is happening to them is their own fault and so they must not tell anyone about it: “People were discarded and filled with self-loathing.”
Change will come when – and only when – the whole membership of the Church own this desire for change
The McLellan Commission
The commission was set up in November 2013 by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland in response to a series of scandals, including the resignation of disgraced cardinal Keith O’Brien (pictured, right.)
He stepped down from the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February 2013 after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.
Pope Francis has spoken powerfully about his desire to address current and past failures of the church relating to child abuse. In February he wrote to some leaders of the Church: “Everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”
Mr McLellan says the church must turn words into action, noting that since 2007 there has been a great deal of public concern about safeguarding within the Catholic Church and a great deal of concern within the Church itself. However, in terms of policy and practices little has changed in this time.
The Commission’s findings outlines specific and detailed safe-guarding measures. This morning Mr McLennan said: “Change will come when – and only when – the whole membership of the Church own this desire for change and embrace for themselves the agenda set out in our report.
“If they take this opportunity, if the Catholic Church in Scotland grabs this opportunity, then that church will be a safer place for all.”