20 January 2022, The Tablet

Abuse victims call for change of culture in Church

Abuse victims call for change of culture in Church

rian Devlin was a victim of unwanted sexual advances as a seminarian by Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Scotland.
Gary Doak, Alamy

Two survivors of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church in Britain have called for a “one church” approach to safeguarding for dioceses and religious orders and all religious organisations.

A witness at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, known as A711, spoke along with former priest, Brian Devlin, who was a victim of unwanted sexual advances as a seminarian by Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Scotland, to a meeting titled “Stolen Lives”, which was hosted by the reform movement Root and Branch and the Scottish Laity Network.

A711, who was abused by a priest belonging to a religious order said that while there were new structures such as the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA), key decisions were still in the hands of religious leaders. This meant that a provincial of a religious order still saw themselves as autonomous and making their own decisions.

“It is a worrying concern that there isn't a one church approach, there isn't a set of standards which they are obliged to follow. It is something we need to watch,” the woman who is now in her 50s warned.

Referring to the appointment last year of Nazir Afzal as Chair of the CSSA by the bishops of England and Wales she said: “Are they going to have powers that are going to make a difference? At the moment, the jury is still out on that from the point of view of survivors.”

Brian Devlin called for a change of culture within the Church in its response to victims of abuse and for more centralised control through a one church approach.

He also hit out at the Church’s internal processes for dealing with abuse allegations which he and three other priest complainants had used to highlight their concerns about Cardinal O’Brien. The Church had behaved “like a criminal organisation” or “a criminal family” with “a very strong sense of omerta or organised silence,” he said.

He has written of his experiences at Drygrange seminary in Cardinal Sin, which was published in 2021 and which shows how their attempts to get due process were thwarted.

The former priest warned that power abuses learned in the seminary contributed to the Church’s culture of silence and clericalism.

“I believe that it is seminary that teaches priests how to abuse power, and it teaches eventual bishops how to abuse power. It is the seminary that is the nursery – the germinating ground – for those behaviours to manifest themselves into the sort of clerical power and the hierarchical power that we see within the Church.”

He also said there was a culture of bullying and intimidation today which targeted “good priests and good lay people throughout the church”.

“One form of power abuse, which is based on sexual predation, has been replaced with another form of power abuse, which is ‘I am your superior, you will obey me’.”

Calling for a reform of the selection process for bishops Brian Devlin said the process needed to become more transparent.

“We have a problem with narcissistic leadership within the Catholic Church and if you have a narcissist in charge, then the Church won’t get very far. The laity has a role to ‘mind’ the Church. It is their role to stand up and not to take the rubbish and sheer arrogance that we hear from the bishops; to say, ‘No, it is our church’.”

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