01 December 2019, The Tablet

Abuse, slavery and cathedral repairs on the agenda at bishops’ meeting

Abuse, slavery and cathedral repairs on the agenda at bishops’ meeting

Post Plenary Meeting Press Conference

The Church in England and Wales is to launch a major survey of all its cathedrals in the hopes of securing government funding for major renovations, it was revealed this week.

The announcement followed the bishops’ plenary conference in Leeds, and took the form of a resolution by the Bishops’ Conference.

“The Conference welcomes the advice of the Patrimony Committee that an updated fabric survey of all Catholic Cathedrals is to be undertaken. Such surveys will assist in making the case to Government for additional funding in support of the major works identified as a result of this exercise,” the resolution reads.

Speaking alongside the Archbishop of Southwark at a press conference on Friday Fr Christopher Thomas, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: “There has been a change in the way cathedrals are funded. No longer are there grants for places of worship so we are placed in a broader pool of funding and therefore the competition is much greater. We feel that having a survey done will put us in a very good position to be able to liaise with government and to bid for financial support for the upkeep of our cathedrals.”

Another major issue that the plenary meeting discussed was safeguarding, Fr Thomas told journalists, in particular the way the Church engages with victims and survivors to formulate policy and training for priests, bishops and lay people. 

He said that the bishops were waiting for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s [IICSA] final report into abuse in the Catholic Church and said that the Church was continuing to support that inquiry by providing documents and information where requested. 

“It would be inappropriate for us to make any comment on the hearings that were conducted earlier in the month but the commitment of the Church and the bishops to ensure that we fully cooperate with the inquiry was fully reflected in our discussions [at the plenary meeting],” he said.

He said that an independent review into the Church’s safeguarding procedures and policies was now underway. Its lead, Ian Elliot, an international safeguarding consultant, has begun work, and the terms of reference for the review have been published on the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission’s website. 

“It is our hope that we would have an interim report by April 2020 and a final report by October 2020, which should help us to already be on a track of implementing those recommendations by the time the IICSA report comes out, and we hope there will be congruence between the two,” he told The Tablet. 

The Bishops’ Conference also discussed mental health, which Archbishop John Wilson noted was a growing issue, particularly for young people, and care for the elderly, and welcomed a new report by the Catholic Social Action Network (CSAN) into care for socially isolated older people. New guidance for parishes on outreach to the elderly is due to be published on 4 December, Archbishop Wilson said. “We want to do all we can both within the Church and the community and with other agencies to support people who are elderly within our community,” he added. 

Fr Thomas said that human trafficking continued to be a major part of the Bishops’ Conference’s mission, and he noted that the Church was due to launch a new seasonal workers project this weekend in Spalding, near Nottingham. 

“Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, in terms of their population, expand greatly during the agricultural season when lots of people come to work as fruit pickers and flower harvesters. This is an area that is very, very ripe for people who traffick humans, so to raise awareness of the signs of human trafficking and to be able to highlight those to statutory authorities is what we’re trying to do with grassroots parishes,” he told journalists. “In Spalding local priests are being supported by the Santa Marta group [an international anti-trafficking organisation] to launch this local campaign, which we hope will then be rolled out to other parts of the country where there is this seasonal increase.” 

Elsewhere the bishops discussed the situation in the Holy Land, noting, Archbishop Wilson said, “some of the injustice around some of the settlements that have taken place there. And it was really a call for international law to be applied properly, with justice, and that the Church’s stance that a two-state solution is the best way for helping everyone in the Holy Land to live in peace.”

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