Millions of people all over the
world belong to the Catholic Church. They seek to serve others
in the imitation of Christ. They are spiritually enriched, rewarded
and comforted by the teachings enshrined in the Gospels and
seek to live happy and trustworthy lives.
A very few break this trust, but those who do bring untold
damage and can wreck the lives of those whom they abuse.
It has taken time for the Church to realise fully the implications
of this betrayal by clergy and lay people working in the Catholic
Church and to learn how to respond fairly, properly and supportively.
In 2000 Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor invited Lord Nolan
to set a framework for best practice and prevention to assist
the Church to do just that. The last of Lord Nolan’s recommendations
was that his report ‘A Programme for Action’,
published in 2001, should be reviewed in five years time.
The task of the Cumberlege Commission has been to carry out
We were invited by the Cardinal to be ‘thorough, painstaking
and independent and where we found progress to be inadequate
to recommend change’.
We have spent a year in visiting, listening, thinking, talking,
writing and praying in order to fulfil our task. We have been
greatly helped by all those who came to see us or sent us evidence.
To all those people and to everyone who was so generous and
hospitable on our visits I, on behalf of the Commission, wish
to thank you.
We have met some truly remarkable people, clergy, religious
and laity who live the Gospels and inspire others to do likewise.
People who take safeguarding children and vulnerable adults
as a serious and sensitive subject that needs to be addressed
and must not be hidden and swept away. We listened to those
who have suffered deeply by the inappropriate and, on occasions,
criminal activity of people whom they trusted. We have shared
with them their broken lives and their determination to ensure
that the future will be different, that a vigilant parish or
religious community will prevent abuse and if it should take
place it is detected and dealt with speedily and with care.
Although much progress has been made and the Church is now
a safer place we believe there is room for improvement.
We urge the Bishops and Leaders of the Religious Congregations
to reaffirm their commitment to a One Church approach and to
ensure that there is one set of policies adopted by the whole
church. We would like to see them take a more central leadership
role in safeguarding children, young people and vulnerable adults.
We are recommending the setting up of a new National Safeguarding
Commission at the very heart of the organisation, which will
place them firmly in the driving seat. With transparent processes
and an independent Chairman, a person recognised to be of national
standing, authority will be strengthened to set the strategic
direction, to provide a proper forum for debate and challenge
and to call to account those who minimise the distressing consequences,
the harmful impact and the anguish that follows in the wake
of child abuse.
In our report we have congratulated the Catholic Office for
the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA) in
formulating policy. Their achievements, in such a relatively
short time, have been considerable. However, much of the progress
has been made at national and diocesan level; as a result COPCA’s
reach has not really extended to the parishes where the supporting,
training, and advising particularly in the prevention of abuse
needs to happen. If awareness and a safe environment is all
important - and it is – it is here in the parishes where
children and vulnerable people live that we could have expected
a greater emphasis and a stronger attempt to win over ‘hearts
So for the future we see a re-balancing of COPCA’s role
and a greater emphasis of coordinating, identifying and sharing
good practice; of providing advice, organising training, overseeing
and updating policies, and of being the principal liaison point
between the secular world and the Church, of fitting all these
pieces together – rather than a narrow policing role.
And we will also expect to see a greater focus on safeguarding
vulnerable adults but not at the expense of safeguarding children.
The ‘paramountcy principle’ which places
the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration, is
well established in family law but is not unequivocally accepted
within the Church. There is dispute and perceived inconsistencies
in its implementation particularly when it comes to the Church’s
response to allegations of abuse against priests. As a result
some now believe that the procedures and practices adopted over
the past five years leaves them particularly vulnerable and
deprived of their legitimate rights under Canon Law.
We appreciate the enormous difficulties and heart searching
which can take over a Bishop or Congregational Leader’s
life when faced with these cases. So we have addressed the issue
of due process and have made detailed proposals, including introducing
the opportunity for review, to strengthen the Church’s
procedures for investigating and managing allegations of abuse.
Our goal has been to ensure a process that fits with the Church’s
universal laws and the concept of natural justice, a process
that makes the procedures quicker, more efficient, and more
transparent, a process that serves the victims of abuse and
those accused of perpetrating such abuse.
Time and again we were made aware that a lively and healthy
parish is the heart beat of the Catholic Church. It is here
that children and young people should flourish confident that
they and their parents can trust those around them. A confident
parish or Religious Congregation will ensure that vulnerable
people will have peace of mind knowing that they will be cared
for and loved by their Christian community.
I want to thank the members of the Commission who have been
outstanding in their commitment to what has been a challenging
task. The amount of time and energy they have sacrificed to
get this work done has been at great personal cost. They have
been unstinting in sharing their expertise. They have been thoughtful,
painstaking and excellent company. I particularly want to pay
tribute to our Vice-Chairman Baroness Butler-Sloss for her unfailing
and generous support to me in my role as Chairman.
Without the dedication, diligence and inspiration of Dr. Valerie
Brasse, secretary and advisor to the Commission, this report
would not be the robust publication before you. Rose Anderson
has been indefatigable in her administrative support enabling
all to operate smoothly and Alan Ali has looked after our communications
and kept us well informed. After many intense debates we are
at one with every aspect of this report – it has our unanimous
The prime motivation for this report is that in the future
the Catholic Church is confident in carrying out Christ’s
work and is not fearful that the organisation lacks the ability
to cope with those who fail.
We have done our utmost to help those in Christ’s Ministry
to safeguard the vulnerable and weak, to be fair and just to
those who have been abused and to be united in our belief that
the love and care entrusted to us should never be betrayed.
Chairman of the Commission
‘...In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you
have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending
cases of sexual abuse of minors. These are all the more tragic
when the abuser is a cleric. The wounds caused by such acts
run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and
trust where these have been damaged. In your continuing efforts
to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to
establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take
whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring
again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully
respected and, above all to bring healing to the victims and
all those affected by these egregious crimes...’
(Extract from Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to the
Bishops of Ireland, Rome, October 2006)