The number of people accused of abuse in the Church in England and Wales jumped by 29 per cent between 2018 and 2019, the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission has disclosed, with the majority of alleged abusers – almost three quarters – being priests.
According to the NCSC Annual Report, which was released on 10 February, the jump in the number of individuals against whom allegations or concerns were raised is substantially higher than in previous years, rising from 125 people in 2018 to 162 people in 2019. By comparison, 118 people had allegations made against them in 2017, and 91 people in 2015.
Of those 162 people, 46 per cent were secular or diocesan priests and 28 per cent were religious priests. In both categories, most of the abuse alleged was sexual. Some cases were historic, but a significant number of cases – 18 – alleged that the abuse had commenced since 2001.
Five of the secular diocesan priests who were accused of abuse were known to have been subject to allegations previously, and outcomes for secular priests included police investigations and prosecution in two cases to safeguarding plans in 12 cases.
The sharp increase, a trend over the past five years, suggests that the Church faces a reckoning over the next decade, as more cases of historic abuse come to light. According to the report, 76 per cent of victims of secular diocesan priests took between 19 and 69 years to report abuse. Noting this, the NCSC said that the Church should consider doing more to publicise its reporting policy and to encourage people to report abuse, including historic abuse.
“Although many adults appear to report abuse within the year of occurrence, or within a few years of that, there is the need for more efforts to be made to encourage and facilitate reporting of any abuse at the time of occurrence, so that victims can receive timely support and those responsible for abuse can be robustly managed,” the report reads.
The in–depth annual report was the last to be headed by Chris Pearson, former Chair of the NCSC, who died last month. In his foreword Mr Pearson said the Church in England and Wales has a pastoral and spiritual responsibility for safeguarding, and must listen to victims.
Reflecting on the evidence provided to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in 2019, Mr Pearson said: “Abuse of children causes significant harm and has long–term traumatic effects into adulthood; we all hold our heads collectively in shame at the profound impact of the horrific accounts given at the Inquiry by victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by those in positions of trust and power in the Catholic Church.”
“The golden thread of ‘impact’ is that the church from top to bottom needs to listen to the voice of victims and survivors and learn from what is heard. The Church’s pastoral and spiritual responsibility is to walk alongside those who have been hurt, empower the voice of victims and survivors to be heard, and always recognise that as survivors of abuse, they are best placed to tell us how to respond and prevent abuse.”
The report revealed the progress that the NCSC has made in areas of safeguarding, including an ecumenical initiative called “Safe Spaces”, and includes reports from the Survivor Advisory Panel (SAP) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), which implements and supports safeguarding procedures.
In its reflection, prepared ahead of a meeting with Cardinal Vincent Nichols in 2019, the SAP called on the Church to listen, respect, respond to and support abuse victims. “Don’t see victims/survivors as ‘the enemy’ in a conflict, see them as brothers and sisters in Christ. His children are hurt by abuse and He is at the heart of their healing,” they urged. “It is a scandal that some victims are apparently still confronted by responses totally devoid of integrity or compassion. Lives have and are still being broken.”