Fairness to Victims and Survivors
The dignity of those who have been
5.1 Jesus showed a special tenderness and
concern for the downtrodden of the world. This attitude may
have seemed revolutionary to his followers, but it reminds us
of the teaching of the Old Testament, that God is the defender
of those who are poor and oppressed, those who have no other
defenders here on earth. Those who embrace the call to follow
Christ must therefore recognise that the vocation given to them
by their Baptism includes respect for the poor, and defence
of the downtrodden. The Church’s approach to caring for
those who have been abused should be formed by the teachings
5.2 The Catholic Church, as a community of
Christian believers, is called to be a community that protects
the weak in its midst as well as the weak in the world outside.
Many of its members serve the weak through education, health-care,
as well as many more specialised ministries. Since the Second
Vatican Council the Catholic Church has recognised a duty to
give special care to those who suffer discrimination, disadvantage
and poverty, and more recently it has become aware that the
protection of children and vulnerable adults is an integral
part of this “option for the poor”.
5.3 Those children and vulnerable adults
who have been abused in any way need to be, and know that they
are, a special concern for the Catholic Church. It is to the
Church that they should be able to turn for a safe haven. If
they cannot, if any Christian community is found to be, as an
institution, incapable of ensuring the safety of children and
vulnerable adults in its midst it must be a scandal. And that
scandal is immeasurably greater if those who abuse children
or vulnerable adults are people - lay, clerical, religious or
secular - who are acting in the name of the Church. Those involved
in the safeguarding ministry are in the front line in providing
care for those who have been abused within the Church.
Those with pastoral responsibility should be ready to listen
to those who have suffered abuse, and to learn from them because
they have much to teach the Church. Bishops, Congregational
Leaders, priests and religious must take a lead in ensuring
that the Church is a safe place for vulnerable people and
in showing pastoral concern for all who have suffered abuse.
This duty is particularly pressing when the abuse has taken
place within the family of the Church.
The support and care of those who report
5.4 Abuse is a great evil, and its effects
on those who have been abused are profound and long-lasting.
What is less well recognised is that the evil affects so many
and its reverberations are widespread. In the case of sexual
abuse in particular, it is not only the immediate victim who
is affected, but the victim’s family who will feel the
hurt and pain of their loved one. The abuser will be degraded
as a human being and as a moral agent by the behaviour he or
she has engaged in. The abuser’s family and friends will
feel a sense of hurt and betrayal.
5.5 Lord Nolan’s report rightly highlighted
the particular scandal of abuse being perpetrated within the
family of the Church, above all when the perpetrator is a minister
acting in the name of the Church. The social and structural
complexity of the Catholic Church has in the past tended to
impede an efficient response to allegations of abuse; and the
degree to which the Church is itself hurt when abuse is alleged
against one of its own has all too easily led to poor responses
when allegations are made. When the abuser’s family (in
the broad sense) is the Church, whether a parish, a diocese
or a religious family, the response to allegations of abuse
are likely to be influenced first and foremost by the shock,
sadness and sorrow that this family is going through. Bishops
and Congregational Leaders are not immune from such feelings.
5.6 The person who has been abused will often
see the Catholic Church as a monolithic institution and expect
it to respond accordingly. The truth is very different as we
explain elsewhere. The Church’s own law makes clear that
there exists both the physical person and also “juridical
persons”, each of which has its own structures and obligations.
Examples of “juridical persons” are dioceses, parishes,
religious congregations and independent religious houses, not
to mention national and local voluntary organisations. They
are not in law or in practice answerable for each other’s
mistakes or liable for each other’s debts.
5.7 On the other hand, those who come into
contact with the Church for whatever reason and certainly those
who put their trust in the Church need to be conscious of the
solidarity that unites them. In particular that all share the
pastoral concern for the abused. We believe that it is important
that when a person alleges abuse, he or she does not simply
receive the reply that “it’s not our problem”.
Even though it may not be the responsibility of the person or
institution that hears the allegation, that is not the message
the person making the allegation wants to hear. He or she needs
to be helped to find the way through the rather bewildering
institutional structures, and brought to the diocese, religious
congregation or other institution that is legally or morally
5.8 We wish to emphasise that when an allegation
is made and the matter is in the hands of the team responsible
for safeguarding in the diocese, religious congregation or other
institution in question, the primary function of that team is
not to protect the Church; it must be, and must be seen to be,
the protection of vulnerable people, whether it is the person
making the allegation or others who may be at risk.
The Church should encourage those who have been abused by
someone working in the name of the Church to come forward
and disclose the abuse.
All churches and other institutions run by the Church should
have notices giving the names, photographs and contact details
of those who may be contacted by anyone who has a concern
about the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. These details
should also be put on websites that children and the vulnerable
are likely to visit. There should be at least two names given:
one of a person who is near at hand, one of a person who is
not directly connected with the church or institution in question.
The telephone number of “Childline” should also
be given and made clearly visible for children to see.
If a complaint or allegation is made to a member of a team
responsible for safeguarding who believes that he or she is
not competent to deal with the matter, either because
the alleged perpetrator is not a member of the diocese/congregation
for which that office is responsible, or because the alleged
victim does not come under the heading of “children”
or “vulnerable adult”, the person making the complaint
must nevertheless be received with care and the concern must
be heard and recorded. The officer concerned should offer
to pass the matter on to the person who is competent to deal
with it and the complainant should be told to whom the information
is being passed. If there is uncertainty about who is competent
to deal with the matter, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory
Service may be asked for their advice.
5.9 Inevitably, some allegations of abuse
will take a long time to deal with, particularly complex issues
involving more than one diocese or religious congregation. Nevertheless,
it is important, and helpful not only to those making allegations
but also to those receiving them, that the policies should indicate
how soon the victim/complainant should expect to receive a response.
The national policies for responding to allegations of abuse
should indicate the timescale within which appropriate action
should normally be taken, and to whom the matter should be
referred if a satisfactory response is not received.
5.10 If the matter has to be referred to
the police or the social services the process of investigation
and the time taken for enquiries to be completed are no longer
control of the Church’s local safeguarding service. But
even then it is important that those responsible for managing
allegations of abuse do not give misleading advice about the
length of time the investigation is likely to take.
5.11 Allegations of abuse that need to be
referred to the statutory authorities will often take longer
to investigate and resolve than all of us would wish. Both alleged
perpetrators and victims feel hurt and injured by these delays.
It is important that this is recognised by the Church’s
representatives and that they do not encourage unrealistic expectations
of a speedy resolution.
5.12 Lord Nolan stressed the importance of
the Church providing a “support person” for those
who come forward to allege abuse, as well as for those against
whom allegations are made. We believe that it is important to
add some further recommendations about the “support person”.
Particular attention should be given to the role of an appropriate
“support person”, recommended by the Nolan report
(recommendations 71-74). It should be made clear to the person
who is being supported that:
(a) Any disclosure of harm, or danger of harm, to
a child or vulnerable adult must be reported to the appropriate
(b) In other cases, information and opinions voluntarily
given to the “support person” may only be passed
on to the local Commission, or other bodies, with the express
consent of the person being supported;
(c) Any statement required for legal or safeguarding
purposes should be taken by someone from the appropriate investigating
agency not from the “support person”.
5.13 The “support person” will
normally be arranged by the diocese or congregation that would
be responsible for the alleged abuse if it is found to have
The person receiving support may request that the “support
person” should not be a member of the clergy of that
diocese or of the congregation in question, and wherever it
is possible the diocese or congregation should respect that
The CSAS should ensure the co-ordination of support for victims
where the alleged abuse covers several dioceses and religious
5.14 A subsequent, but no less important
concern of the diocese or religious congregation must be to
seek to restore in some way the dignity, self-respect, physical
or psychological well-being of those making the allegations,
when it is found that there is substance behind the allegations.
Different people have different wants and needs, and these must
“The real needs of victims should be recognised
and responded to. They may be seeking a safe space to speak
of their experience, validation and vindication, answers to
their questions, genuine truth-telling, empowerment, restitution
or reparation, and hope of a better future”33
| Attributed to Christopher
Marshall in a personal communication.