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Following his election as Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron was grilled by the media about his beliefs as an evangelical Christian. Has the focus on faith, which began with Tony Blair, reached the point where it is harder than ever to hold religious beliefs and play an active role in political life?
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The recently appointed Vatican prosecutor for abuse cases travelled to Britain this week for his first overseas visit in his new role.
Fr Robert Oliver, the “Promoter of Justice” at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), met abuse victims, canon lawyers and addressed two seminars attended by bishops and safeguarding professionals in London and Leeds.
He was invited to Britain by the Chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission for England and Wales, Danny Sullivan.
Fr Oliver, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston who assisted with that diocese’s response to the clerical sexual abuse scandals which led to the resignation of its then archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, was appointed to his role at the end of last year.
He replaced Mgr Charles Scicluna, who had become a prominent advocate of a robust response by the Church to clerical sexual abuse.
Fr Oliver’s visit comes at a time when the Church in Scotland is seeking to respond to criticisms of its handling of abuse. Tina Campbell, the new safeguarding co-ordinator for the Church in Scotland, was due to attend one of Fr Oliver’s seminars.
Fr Oliver handles abuse cases involving priests from across the world, including examining whether a priest should be laicised. Speaking to The Tablet Fr Oliver said such cases could start to be heard by local Churches as this would speed up cases.
“Sometimes these cases are taking too long,” he said. “Regional tribunals are a structure we have. We [the CDF] would be there to support local churches.” He said that Pope Francis meets with the CDF Prefect, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, every two weeks and is fully informed about the work in relation to clerical sexual abuse. Fr Oliver’s ordinary is Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who is a member of Pope Francis’s advisory group of eight cardinals.
Fr Oliver also said the Vatican could expand its work when it came to safeguarding in order to co-ordinate best practice and share information among local Churches. “Rome is uniquely placed to do this,” he added.
This week the former Apostolic Nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, was found in absentia to have abused at least five boys. His current whereabouts are unknown. Fr Oliver said he could not comment on individual cases but “bishops and nuncios” should be accountable to the “same system”.
He described the action by the Scottish bishops in relation to abuse (see above) as “courageous” and the work of safeguarding in England and Wales as “very commendable.” Fr Oliver said that statistics suggested that the number of clerical sexual abuse cases was decreasing partly due to better screening of prospective seminarians and speedier prevention programmes.