Crackdowns on child abuse scourge in the Catholic Church have been toothless – this time we’ll root it out for good

The sexual abuse of children is a scourge found in many communities, institutions and situations within society. During my career, I have come across situations where this scourge appears to have been happening on an industrial scale.

Over three decades I have learned that victims have been failed by every institution responsible for safeguarding them, and seen how often reputation was thought to be more important than exposing abusers. Yet for the victims, suffering can be intense and lifelong, filled with shame, guilt and fear. This has to change.

My work in the successful prosecutions of those such as Stuart Hall, the cronies of Jimmy Savile and gangs grooming children in Rochdale has made clear that much remains to be done to protect children across every stratum of society. It is a task that involves a continuous journey of learning, an ongoing conversation, and a struggle for justice that will never be exhausted.

Yet we must never fail in striving to make our institutions transparent and accountable and in having safeguarding procedures and structures that work and are of the highest standards.

We need to bring perpetrators of crimes against children swiftly to justice, to create environments that are supportive of the victims of abuse and inimical to anyone minded to commit such heinous offences.

There must be no place in society where people who would harm children can shelter, escape or carry out such acts with impunity, and there must be no child or vulnerable adult beyond the reach of our help and protection.

It is, therefore, a great encouragement to me that the Catholic Church has recognised the well-documented failures of the past and the urgency to put things right, and I’m delighted that the bishops of England and Wales have taken what some might consider a brave and bold decision in appointing me as the first independent Chair of their newly-established Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency.

It is my intention to assist the Church in developing some of the strongest structures in safeguarding in the country.

There will be transparency and accountability, and the courageous voices of victims and survivors of sexual abuse will inform the work that my board and I undertake as we build on existing good practice and develop this further where improvement is necessary.

The agency itself is impressive. It differs from previous safeguarding structures within the Catholic Church in that it is based upon standards that will be uniformly implemented throughout every diocese and religious institution.

It represents a move away from earlier disparate advisory bodies with “no teeth” to a regulator which will hold the Church and individuals within the Church to account.

In short, failure to meet the standards designed to protect children will not be tolerated as we help to transform the Church fully into a hostile environment for those who intend to abuse, discouraging them from attempting to be any part of its work and its mission.

It fills me with great hope and optimism that the Catholic Church has taken such vital steps.

To me, it shows real determination to enact the “heartfelt change” promised by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference, to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.

I can honestly say that I would not have taken on this role unless I was convinced that these reforms represented a key change in the way safeguarding is going to be carried out in the Catholic Church in the months and years to come. Continue reading

  • Nazir Afzal (pictured) is a former prosecutor appointed by the UK Catholic Church to lead the child abuse body.
  • Image: The Times


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