Archbishop Aidan Nichols of
Westminster writes to the The Times
On 26 March , "The Times" newspaper
published an edited version of an article by Archbishop Vincent Nichols
of Westminster regarding child abuse committed within the Roman Catholic
Church. The full and unedited text of the article written by Archbishop
Nichols and offered to "The Times" on 25 March can be found below.
The child abuse committed within the
Catholic Church and its concealment is deeply shocking and totally
unacceptable. I am ashamed of what has happened.
That shame and anger centres on the
damage done to every, single abused child. Abuse damages, often
irrevocably, a child's ability to trust, to fashion stable
relationships, to sustain self-esteem. When it is inflicted within a
religious context, then it damages that child's relationship to God. It
rightly attracts deep anger. Today, not for the first time, I express my
unreserved shame and sorrow for what has happened to many in the Church.
My shame is compounded, as is the anger
of many, at the mistaken judgements made within the Church: that
reassurance from a suspect could be believed; that credible allegations
were deemed to be "unbelievable"; that the reputation of the Church
mattered more than the safeguarding of children. These wrong reactions
arise whenever and wherever allegations of abuse are made, whether
within a family or a Church. We have to insist on the importance of the
Paramouncy principle: the safety of the child comes first because the
child is powerless.
There have been serious mistakes made
within the Catholic Church. There is some misunderstanding, too.
Within the Catholic Church worldwide,
there is a legal structure, its Canon Law. It is the duty of each
diocesan bishop to administer that law. Certain serious offences against
that law have to be referred to the Holy See to ensure that proper
justice is administered. This was again clarified in 2001. Some of these
offences are not criminal in public law (such as profanation of the
Sacraments), others are (such as offences against children). The role of
the Holy See is to offer guidance and advice so as to ensure that proper
procedures are followed, including the confidentiality needed for the
protection of the good name of witnesses and victims, and for the
accused until the trial is completed. It is part of a responsible legal
This "secrecy" is nothing to do with the
confidentiality, or "seal" of the Confessional, which is protected for
reasons of the rights of conscience.
The relationship between the
administration of Church law and the criminal law in any particular
state is a point of real difficulty and misunderstanding. Nothing in the
requirement of Canon Law prohibits or impedes the reporting of criminal
offences to the police. Since 2001, the Holy See, working through the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has encouraged that course
of action on dioceses which have received evidence of child abuse and
which the diocesan authorities are responsible for pursuing. This is a
diocesan responsibility. The Canonical procedure is best put on hold
until the criminal investigation is complete, right through to its due
outcome, whatever that may be. This is what is needed. That this is has
not consistently happened is deeply regrettable.
In England and Wales, since 2001, the
agreed policy followed by the bishops has been to report all allegations
of child abuse, no matter from how far back in the past, to the police
or social services. By doing so, and by having clear protection
procedures in place in every parish as well as independent supervision
at diocesan and national level, we have built up good relationships with
those authorities in these matters, including, in some areas,
cooperation in the supervision of offenders in the community.
What of the role of Pope Benedict? When
he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he
led important changes made to Church law: the inclusion in canon law of
internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse
offences to include the sexual abuse of all under 18 years of age, the
case by case waiving of the statute of limitation, and the establishment
of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders. He is
not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words.
Every year since 2002 the Catholic
Church in England and Wales has made public the exact number of
allegations made within the Church, the number reported to the police,
the action taken and the outcome. As far as I know, no other body or
organisation in this country does this. This is not a cover-up; it is
clear and total disclosure. The purpose of our doing so is not to defend
the Church. It is to make plain that in the Catholic Church in England
and Wales there is no hiding place for those who seek to harm children.
On this we are determined.
One more fact. In the last forty years,
less than half of 1% of Catholic priests in England and Wales (0.4%)
have had allegations of child abuse made against them. Fewer have been
found guilty. Do not misunderstand me. One is too many. One broken child
is a tragedy and a disgrace. One case alone is enough to justify anger
and outrage. The work of safeguarding, needed within any organisation
and within our society as a whole, is demanding but absolutely
necessary. The Catholic Church here is committed to that work.