In a letter published in the Tablet newspaper today (23 August) Archbishop Mario Conti corrects a number of inaccuracies relating to Safeguarding procedures within the Catholic Church in Scotland.
At their June 2013 meeting the Bishops' Conference of Scotland agreed to publish the existing National Audits conducted by the National Safeguarding Office. These audits draw together the work of the Diocesan Safeguarding Offices in any one calendar year beginning in 2006. It is hoped to publish these audits late in the autumn of 2013. They will contain all the aspects of the work of the eight dioceses of the Church in Scotland with regard to safeguarding and will detail any complaints made about clergy, church workers, volunteers or anyone else and how these complaints were dealt with.
Prior to 2006 there was no National Audit and so at present, renewed consideration is being given as to how the statistics which exist for the earlier years can be drawn together and published. The Church remains willing to engage in any process which allows lessons to be learned and survivors to be supported."
The full text of Archbishop Conti s letter is shown below.
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I respond to your editorial of 10th August which has as yet gone unanswered (Curse of Complacency) in which you make some damming judgments of the Catholic Church in Scotland with respect to Safeguarding, suggesting that it has a long way to go and that the Catholic Church in England and Wales (is) streets ahead of Scotland in respect of caring for survivors. You illustrate this with reference to the recent revelations about alleged abuse of boys at Fort Augustus School by monks of the Abbey.
Let us deal first of all with Fort Augustus. It was within the ecclesiastical area of Scotland but not under the jurisdiction of the Church in Scotland other than in respect of its parish responsibilities. The internal life of the Abbey and the management of its school was outwith these. It was autonomous as a Benedictine community, and in terms of its affiliations was a member of the English Benedictine Congregation. I can assure you that if any of these allegations had been made to me while I was Bishop of Aberdeen (1977 “ 2002) I would have alerted the proper authorities to them. It seems grossly unfair to visit any criticism on the Catholic Church in Scotland by such reference.
A statement was made recently on behalf of the Church in Scotland with which I fully concur: We deplore acts of abuse at any time, in any place, committed by anyone representing the Church, or working in, with or for the Church. Although legal and criminal responsibility for any abusive behaviour may lie elsewhere, Scotland s Catholic Dioceses are prepared to accept pastoral responsibility for those who have been harmed to help them heal . Each Diocese has someone in place to hear complaints and to advise complainants how to proceed in having them addressed.
As regards actual safeguarding the Catholic Church has had nationally agreed guidelines on the protection of children and vulnerable adults since 1999. In this regard the Church was two years ahead of the Nolan Commission in England and Wales, which reported in 2001. Every person, clerical and lay who has any degree of responsibility of care of children is required to be vetted as regards suitability, be police checked for any possible previous complaint or conviction, and be trained in how to deal with children to their protection and appropriate care.
Each parish has a person appointed to monitor those exercising such care, and identified as a person to whom any complaint of misdemeanor is to be reported. Each Diocese has its safeguarding officer, and advisory committee, and, responding to the Bishops Conference there is a national office the responsibility of which is to ensure implementation of the agreed (by the Bishops) guidelines and to provide training.
In November 2006 the General Secretary of the Bishops Conference wrote to Baroness Cumberlege, at her invitation, to advise for comparative purposes that the Bishops Conference in Scotland had chosen to establish A Reference Group rather than a (national) Management Board: Working with the Diocesan adviser and members of the diocesan child protection team the bishop takes responsibility for implementing national policy in his own diocese. The strategic direction is set and monitored by the Bishops Conference with advice from a group of experts, the Reference Group, chaired by one of the members of the Bishops Conference and attended by the National coordinator. The Reference group brings together expertise in a number of relevant fields, including child care and protection, policing, care for adults at risk, civil and canon law, human resources and personnel management ¦The National coordinator also compiles an audit of compliance from each of the dioceses to allow the bishops to monitor the degree to which the agreed policy is being followed both in their own dioceses and nationally . I can vouch for the good work undertaken by the Reference Group since, until my retirement last September; I was chairman of the group
It was the intention of the Conference to publish these audits but was delayed in doing so by the objection of a member of the Conference; without full participation of all the Dioceses the exercise would have been faulty. I understand that in the light of the criticisms, which the Church has been, in my opinion unjustly, facing, these audits will now be published. I think they will go some distance not only in confirming what Bishop Devine said by way of the number of cases which we have had to address, but in demonstrating the seriousness and competence with which the Church in Scotland has been dealing with Safeguarding in all its implications.
The Most Rev. Mario Conti,