Lawyers have called on Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the national inquiry into child sexual abuse, urgently to produce an interim report on the Catholic church, saying it is “structurally, culturally and doctrinally incapable of implementing and enforcing the minimum standards of safeguarding”.
David Enright of the firm Howe and Co, who are acting on behalf of a group sexual abuse survivors, said that following a three-week hearing into the English Benedictine Congregation in December last year, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) had “heard enough” to compel it urgently to issue a report.
Mr Enright, along with other lawyers representing victims of sexual abuse, was making a submission on behalf of his clients to the IICSA panel at a preliminary hearing into the English Benedictines, which is due to consider evidence relating to Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School in Ealing over five days in February 2019.
“We say that the Catholic Church, including Ealing Abbey, is not a safe place for children and it is not something we should wait to act upon,” he told Professor Jay and the panel.
“So far the Church not shown a scintilla of evidence that it is capable of implementing national minimum standards of safeguarding, he said, adding: “Change must be forced upon it.”
He was supported by Alan Collins of the firm Hugh James, who cited the Australian national sexual sex abuse inquiry, who he said produced interim reports during the five-year inquiry.
Kate Gallafent QC for the English Benedictine Congregation, said that an interim report would be “premature at this stage”. She added that she hoped the panel would hear further evidence, particularly in relation to her client’s current safeguarding procedures at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s before taking action.
Imran Khan QC, from the firm Imran Khan and partners, urged the inquiry to call a Government minister to give evidence at the upcoming hearing.
He said he believed the Department for Education had an obligation to remove schools that do not meet the standards of safeguarding. He said he believed a minister should explain to the hearing why, in some cases involving the Catholic church, “the state has failed to meet that obligation”.
Almost all of the lawyers representing victims of abuse told the Chair that a five-day hearing into Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s school was a “wholly insufficient” length of time. Richard Scorer of Slater and Gordon said that not only has Ealing Abbey and its school had as many sexual abuse convictions as Ampleforth and Downside Abbeys combined, the sheer amount of evidence that needed to be considered demanded more than five days of time.
“It would be a case of shoehorning the trial into five days,” he said. “The Catholic church is involved with hundreds of thousands of children. It is very important to give time to it,” he added.
IICSA was set up in 2015 to investigate whether a number of public bodies and non-state institutions in England and Wales "have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse".