29 October 2019, The Tablet

Church considering redress scheme for abuse victims

The Bishops' Conference confirmed the victims' redress scheme is under consideration: 'This is work in progress.'

Church considering redress scheme for abuse victims

File pic from April this year of Chrism Mass in St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham
Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

The Church is considering plans to set up a redress scheme for victims of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Early work on a scheme to provide compensation and support to victims and survivors of abuse began after the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC) discussed such a project.

But the EBC is now considering whether that scheme could encompass the whole of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. According to details published in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s report on Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School last week, the EBC is liaising with the rest of the Church after realising it is too small to run the redress scheme alone.

Meanwhile guidelines on how to deal with sexual abuse claims brought against any part of the Catholic Church in England and Wales are also being drawn up and studied by the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) and Catholic Insurance Services.

A spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that a redress scheme, still in its very early stages, is being considered by CSAS. “This is work in progress”, he said.

IICSA is today on the second day of its two-weeks hearings into the Catholic Church.

The IICSA report on Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School said that Ealing was a saga of cover-up and denial. The inquiry was told of 28 convictions of abuse made against two monks, former junior school headmaster David Pearce and former abbot Laurence Soper, and three lay teachers.

A further 18 allegations have been made against those convicted and another eight monks and teachers. Abbot Christopher Jamison, president of the EBC, told the inquiry that the majority of survivors of scandals at Ealing and other Benedictine monasteries and schools, including Ampleforth and Downside, had sought financial compensation and had now received it.

All three schools are now run separately from the monasteries, with St Benedict’s, Ealing now the most advanced in separate governance.

Andrew Johnson, headmaster of St Benedict’s, this week pledged that his school had made child safeguarding its main priority. It has now developed a recognised expertise and become an adviser to other schools on safeguarding.

Campaigners and lawyers have called for mandatory reporting of child abuse to be introduced so that anybody hearing an allegation of abuse would be obliged to report it, including claims made during confession.

The Church has said this would lead to breaking the sacramental seal of confession. This is among the issues to be discussed at the current IICSA hearings.

Mr Johnson said that at St Benedict’s “we effectively operate mandatory reporting already”. He said: “We would far rather do this than work on our own”.

When asked if he would support mandatory reporting if it broke the seal of confession – and confessions take place in the school before Mass is celebrated – he said: “In my opinions these matters ought to be referred. I do not want to fall out with the Catholic Church but I simply believe that safeguarding concerns must be raised.”

Following his appointment in 2016, Mr Johnson asked a safeguarding expert to review fully the school’s policies. The school follows regulations set by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, a deputy headteacher is the school’s leading safeguarding officer and the governors’ safeguarding subcommittee is headed by a safeguarding specialist.

“Safeguarding is at the heart of what we do,” said Mr Johnson. “We ensure staff are regularly checked, we are open to what children have to say and whenever any concerns are expressed about our approach or an individual we approach the local authority social services department.”

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