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Tomorrow sees the re-convening of bishops in Rome to consider marriage, divorce and sexuality. Last year’s meeting brought bitter disagreements out into the open and the rows have continued to simmer ever since
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The man chosen to lead an external inquiry into how the Catholic Church in Scotland handles sexual abuse says he has been given a free hand to review child protection in order to guarantee that the “awful” lapses of the past could not be repeated.
The Church in Scotland has been under pressure to commission an outside inquiry into its safeguarding procedures following a BBC documentary showing evidence of physical and sexual abuse carried out at the Benedictine-run Fort Augustus School and its prep school, and the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him by five men, four of them priests. Those allegations did not involve minors.
On Sunday, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland announced the review by Dr Andrew McLellan, a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, as part of a three-pronged initiative to confront issues of clerical abuse.
This also includes the publishing on the bishops’ website of a breakdown of abuse allegations made against dioceses between 2006 and 2012, against religious between 2009 and 2012 and a statistical review of all historical cases of abuse from 1947-2005.
Dr Andrew McLellan told The Tablet he was “astonished” to have been approached by the Scottish bishops but that his priority was not to offer support to the Catholic Church but to “seek the best protection of many vulnerable children and adults”. Though he has no specific previous history in implementation of safeguarding procedures and protocols, Dr McLellan is a highly regarded former Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland and he has appointed to his panel Ranald Mair, who has been convenor of safeguarding in the Church of Scotland.
Dr McLellan said that he was unlikely to announce any further appointments until after Christmas. He also declined to set a firm timetable for his report although some predict it will take a year to complete.
He said: “They [the Church] have set me free to do as I think fit and to look at whatever I feel needs to be examined.”
Dr McLellan was at pains to point out that his remit did not cover historic cases of abuse in the Church, some of which are now in police hands, but to review present-day protocols and implementation and to prevent repetition of the “awful” lapses of the past.