By Vatican News staff writer
On Tuesday, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published a report on its investigations into the institutional response of the Church in its duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
Welcoming the report in a statement, the Bishops of England and Wales thanked the independent body for its work, noting that the report will now “inform the ongoing reform and improvement of safeguarding in all aspects of the Church’s life.”
The Bishops also said that the report will be considered in detail at their Plenary Assembly beginning next week in order to explore how to integrate its findings into the life and work of the Church to consistently safeguard children and the vulnerable.
Abuse victims find a voice
A key aspect of the inquiry’s work was the voice given to victims and survivors of abuse. Listening to their witness testimony, the Bishops' statement notes, “has brought into sharp relief the extent of damage this sexual abuse has had on their lives.”
The Bishops also apologize “to all victims and survivors who have not been properly listened to, or properly supported” by the Church, because it is only “by listening with humility to those who have suffered” that the Church can contribute to the healing of the wounds of abuse and learn to improve the Church’s safeguarding standards, policies and procedures.
Combatting child abuse: an ongoing task
Stressing that “child abuse is a crime” that “requires committed vigilance and strict procedures to ensure reporting to the statutory authorities,” the Bishops reiterated their commitment to the task of listening to abuse victims and survivors, pointing out that abuse “must never be excused or covered up.”
This, they pointed out, “is the Church’s policy” and thus the work of safeguarding “needs to be continually reviewed and improved” by committing to actions that bring improvement, and acknowledging where there have been failings and inconsistencies in the application of safeguarding procedures.
“I want people who have suffered sexual abuse to come forward with some confidence – and to come forward with some confidence that they will be listened to,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, in a video message accompanying the Bishops’ statement.
“We are determined to carry on building the quality of our response to every single incident of allegation of sexual abuse,” the Cardinal added.
Cardinal Nichols also thanked IICSA for its work of “putting a light on things that have been hidden and helping us to see the next step of our journey in this terrible, difficult matter.”
The report of the inquiry outlines several recommendations on safeguarding to the Church, including appointing contacts to oversee child protection procedures, providing adequate training for people who work with children, and creating a clear framework for non-compliant cases so as to identify abusers and apply appropriate sanctions. The IICSA report also recommends that external organizations evaluate the effectiveness of child protection programs on a regular basis.
“We express a lot of resolve that we will continue solidly to work hard to improve our response because you know, there is no conflict between the pain and the life of the survivor and the health of the body of the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Nichols. “We have to take in that pain – embrace it, feel it and know better how to respond.”