Independent Safeguarding Audits welcomed by Catholic Church

The bishops – Leo Cushley, Bill Nolan and Joe Toal.  Pictures by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

An independent audit of safeguarding processes in the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh and the Diocese of Galloway published today (Thursday 30 January 2020) has been welcomed by both dioceses.

The audit was commissioned by the Independent Review Group (IRG) established by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland in 2017.

Its role is to help ensure the implementation of recommendations made in a comprehensive report into safeguarding in the Catholic Church in Scotland by the McLellan Commission in 2015.

Its chairperson was Dr Andrew McLellan, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. That initial report was condemned as “a whitewash” in the media and theLiddell Baroness.jpg 2 IRG, an autonomous body that works separately from the Catholic Church, was drafted in to quell the storm of criticism of the report, which deals with child abuse.

However, this report fails to quantify the number of child abuse cases alleged before the IRG was set up and what the most recent statistics are. There is no detail, at least not in the summary, of how many legal claims against the Catholic Church in Scotland have been settled. One of these is by Dumbarton man Jim Lawn, who claims he was frequently  abused by Father John Gowans when he was an altar boy there.

The IRG is chaired by Baroness Helen Liddell, pictured right, a former MP, television reporter and special adviser to Robert Maxwell, the notorious late chairman of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail..

Two of Scotland’s eight dioceses are chosen randomly and audited each year, so that all of them are audited over a four-year period. The audits are designed to support the ongoing commitment to safeguarding improvements within the Catholic Church.

Commenting on the publication, Bishop Joseph Toal, President of the Commission for Pastoral and Social Care said:  “On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, I welcome the publication of the IRG report and thank the IRG for their work.

“I know the audits have been both thorough and rigorous and that they will be studied carefully by both dioceses.

“Safeguarding is at the heart of the Church’s mission and the maintenance of high standards is only possible through independent scrutiny and a commitment to implement any recommendations proposed.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh said: “We very much welcome the work of the Independent Review Group for Safeguarding and the external review that SCIE has completed for our Archdiocese. We found the process helpful and constructive.

“We are reassured and encouraged that the safeguarding improvements we have implemented over the last six years have been recognised and validated and we look forward to developing these processes further to ensure that our churches continue to be safe and welcoming places for everyone.”

Archbishop Leo Cushley said:  “It is the responsibility of all people in our church community, clergy and laity alike, to ensure the church is a safe and welcoming place for everyone and that children and vulnerable adults are protected.

“Each of our parishes has a safeguarding co-ordinator, working with approved volunteers, who support our priests and I extend my thanks to them for their excellent work.

“Safeguarding in the church is a priority and I believe that is reflected in the processes our Archdiocese has implemented and continues to develop.”

McLellan 3
Andrew McLellan. Picture by Bill Heaney

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Galloway said:  “The Diocese is pleased with the final report and believes it will be a valuable and constructive tool. The aim of the audit was to work with the Diocese to support safeguarding improvements and all those involved, believe that this has been achieved.

“We are pleased that the report has reflected the fact that while safeguarding has always been important, it has become a higher priority strategically within the Diocese during the past three years.”

Bishop Bill Nolan said: “I am grateful to all those who work so tirelessly with Galloway Diocese to ensure our safeguarding standards are as high as possible and am particularly gratified to note that our Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser has been commended for working “well beyond what is expected in order to achieve the outcomes currently seen.

“The Diocese is committed to supporting best practice in all its safeguarding work and shares entirely the auditors’ conclusion that “a focus is now needed on sustaining current improvements”.

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