Cllr Jim Bollan, Chief Executive Joyce White, Council leader Jonathan McColl and SNP finance spokesperson Ian Dickson.
SPECIAL REPORT by BILL HEANEY
Community Party councillor Jim Bollan believes he is certain to be reported to the Standards Commission by West Dunbartonshire Council’s chief executive for some of the remarks he made alleging graft and corruption by council officers.
The Democrat was locked out of the monthly meeting of the Council in Clydebank despite arriving early and making a special request to get in after showing documents which would normally have identified any reporter in as a bona fide, card-carrying journalist.
Our last report was compiled from notes made after we were finally allowed in, 90 minutes after the meeting began. This is a much fuller version.
Both Cllr Bollan and the SNP finance spokesperson, Ian Dickson, said they were disappointed that the author of the report, council official Colin McDougall, head of internal audit, was not present to answer questions on its controversial comments.
The Community Party representative said this was “disgraceful” and expressed discontent when it was explained that only senior officers were expected to come to meetings to answer questions and Mr McDougall was not one of them.
He told the meeting: “Who is going to answer my questions then? I sincerely hope this is not an effort to manipulate what we are trying to do her? I will go to the Information Commissioner about this. It is disgraceful.”
Chief Executive Joyce White, who is not one the officers against whom allegations have been made, said someone would be appointed to give an answer once they knew what the questions were.
Cllr Bollan stated that a senior officer of the council had gone to a contractor’s house with a tender document for a £60,000-plus contract for work on a car park in Dalmuir.
The document was allegedly altered and initialled by the contractor to make his firm’s the lowest tender and the next day the contract was awarded to him ahead of the company which had submitted the lowest tender.
Cllr Bollan asserted that this was “irrefutable evidence” that what he and the then Cllr George Black had been told by a whistle-blower was correct.
But that document had since disappeared and neither he, the police or Mr Black had seen it since, although it could have been in a portfolio prepared by internal audit staff, or in a massively redacted document which the council agreed unanimously was unacceptable.
Cllr Bollan said this could be the reason why the document in which page after page was blanked out had not been produced – “Does that document provide evidence of what the whistle-blower told us,” he asked.
When Mrs White said she did not have the information with her and that Audit Scotland, who were now investigating the matter, would obtain this for him, Cllr Bollan said since she was a council officer, she was answerable to the Council and not to Audit Scotland.
He said: “Officials are responsible to the councillors here. If we have the tender document, it will provide cast iron evidence that it was altered and the contractor got the contract next day.
“I have got to say I really feel I have come into a trap here with this. How the Corporate Management team felt [internal audit manager] Colin McDougall should not be here to answer to what is in the report [is wrong]. I think this is a set up.”
Mrs White said: “A redacted report has been issued to members. The part you are talking about has not been drawn to my attention. There is no information about tender documents being changed.”
She added that the redacted document was circulated at a meeting of the Audit Committee in December and that the Council had responded to questions about it from elected members and from the press – “We have answered them. We have to allow Audit Scotland to do its job.”
Cllr Bollan was not content with the Chief Executive’s response – “I really am bitterly disappointed but not surprised at what has happened here today. How Colin McDougall has not been asked to come here is a dereliction of duty.
“It’s a sham and it’s an attempt to cover this up. It will not work. It’s now in front of the public and the press.”
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The allegations of graft and corruption made by the whistle-blower involve three senior council officials receiving hospitality, including champagne, expensive bottles of wine and T-bone steak dinners in plush Glasgow restaurants.
And a £650 golf outing at Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomondside.
The person who is said to have entertained them is alleged to have received preferential treatment when it came to placing with his firm council contracts, which totalled £2.4 million of public money.
Cllr Bollan said: “I have 43 receipts with the names of three council officials on the back of them. Some of them had their partners with them.
“The officers’ defence in the redacted document is that any time they got hospitality, they paid their fair share, out of their own pocket.”
The receipts ranged for items totalling as much as three, four and five hundred pounds.
Cllr Bollan asked by which method the council officials paid their share – was it in cash or by cheque – “How did they pay this? Did they pay by cash or did they pay with a bank card or did they pay by cheque because if they did there is a paper trail?”
Once again, Mrs White said she did not have that information with her at the meeting. And that the Auditor [Colin McDougall] did not find anything untoward. He was satisfied there was no need to take any action.
Cllr Bollan replied: “The problem is that the auditor is not here to answer questions. This is serious ….
“Three senior officers have had their fingers in the till.
“What is happening here is a continuation of the attempts to stop us getting this report.”
When he asked for the report on a number of occasions in the past Cllr Bollan was told it was not ready.
He said: “I waited and I waited and I waited until the 25th of January, 2018. I asked Mrs White for the report. She said it would not be appropriate to release it. She had it for a year and a half, and she had still not made her mind up [what should happen next].”
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Cllr Bollan said he was then advised that one of the officers mentioned in the report had sought legal advice to stop him getting a copy of the report.
Then he was informed that the same officer had taken out a grievance against him.
He asked about that but received no response over a period of 18 months.
“One thing I have learned is that once you put something into the public domain people need to sit up and take action,” he said.
But the 135-page document was so heavily redacted that “it was as much use as a chocolate poker”.
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Cllr Bollan said he had now appealed through the legal department to have this matter inquired into – “My request was for a suitably redacted report. Nothing apart from the names of the council officers and the company [involved] should be redacted.”
There was no doubt in his mind that a cover-up was going on. One year after the whistle-blower gave his information to the council he still had no reply.
He claimed: “This is about speaking truth to power, and the abuse of that power.
“It comes as no surprise to me. I have complained for years about too much delegation to officers. They have had their fingers in the till.”
It was at this point, the Council legal officer warned Cllr Bollan about the rules regarding public criticism of officers.
But Cllr Bollan pressed on: “We met the whistle-blower who first gave information to the Council in 2015. We referred the matter to the police and met a detective superintendent and a colleague five times over a period of months to discuss what was going on.
“The police said they were appalled at the lack of basic procedures against this type of fraud being committed.”
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Cllr Bollan said the allegations against the officers were based on “quality evidence” and unless they could prove they paid their fair share of that money then he believed there was “plenty of evidence that there was wrongdoing”.
He Bollan added: “If you were a care worker or a bin man, you would be put into a disciplinary process and dealt with harshly.”
When Cllr Jonathan McColl, the SNP-run council leader, pleaded with Provost William Hendry to give Cllr Bollan extra time to finish his contribution, Cllr Bollan said: “Thanks for recognising that this is an issue that could not be swept under the carpet.”
He added that the Council Audit Officer [Colin McDougall] said the key findings of his report were that council-wide procurement policies and procedures were not always followed in order to get the work done quickly.
In many instances, contracts were awarded without laid down procedures being followed.
There was evidence of complete lack of adherence to the code of conduct and financial procedures not being followed or monitored and inappropriate connections being made.
Yet no one had received a slap on the wrist never mind a verbal warning for this.
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Cllr Bollan said: “There is something being covered up here. George [Black] would have called it a smelly package. I believe there is quality evidence of fraud and corruption and the police also considered there should be a full investigation when they saw the stuff from the whistle-blower.
“The full report – not with 87 pagers blanked out – needs to be seen so that we can test it against what we now know.”
He added that £2.4 million of contracts was involved in this, and that the Head of Internal Audit himself had said what had happened could be “the tip of the iceberg – “It could be happening right across the council. It’s happening in one department that we know of right now.”
Cllr Bollan said: “We need a public inquiry. We need to get to the truth of what has happened. I think it’s important and that we get a properly redacted report and take a view as to whether the process has been open and fair.”
When the legal officer warned that his motion could be illegal, Cllr Bollan said neither he nor Mr Black had ever mentioned any names in public and had promised the whistle-blower that they wouldn’t.
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Peter Hessett, the legal officer, said the report to the Council was prepared by officers using their best judgement.
A review process was now taking place and it should be allowed to take its course.
Mrs White said the Council had a duty of care to its employees and that there were robust audit and HR processes in place to deal with what had happened.
She told Cllr Bollan that she took exception to what he had said and that specific actions had taken place to ensure these changes would happen.
The Council was on an improvement journey in regard to procurement and contracts, she said.
The Chief Executive added: “We are all aware of the processes. That has been in the public domain. I am very concerned about this criticism. “
She objected to allegations of “fingers in the till” and “slaps on the wrist” which she said were unacceptable and the Council should keep moving forward until it had the Audit Scotland report at the end of March.
All the elected members agreed that the auditor’s report had been excessively redacted.
Bailie Denis Agnew said the fact that councillors could not “make head nor tail” of it because of the redaction was “a disservice to the elected members”
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Council leader Cllr McColl said: “It’s an interesting discussion. I think it was more than challenging. It was a difficult contribution. The law prevents us from getting involved in so much here. It is incredibly frustrating when we come up against these legal barriers, especially when we come up against issues like this, which are very serious. I am given some comfort in that the police found no criminality.
“Openness and transparency are absolutely vital. We need to get to know all that has gone on and we need to look at the redactions. I am given reassurance in that Audit Scotland are going to look into the investigation that took place here. We are on a journey to improve. I hope that ourselves and the public get the answers we need in this.”
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However, Cllr Bollan said that a number of councillors had said the police did not take the matter any further – “That is not strictly true. The police interviewed the whistle-blower twice and he could not go into a witness box because of extremely personal reasons.
“The police advised us that if the key witness did not go into the box, they couldn’t proceed.”
He added that the police never reached a stage where they made any decisions about whether they would be taking the matter further.
He said that even in Colin McDougall’s report, the auditor took a sample of 27 reports of how matters had been handled and 20 of them did not follow the council’s own procedures.
This work had been ordered by e-mail and now the e mails could not be traced.
Cllr Bollan said it looked likely that he would be reported to the Standards Commission, but that he had been there before and was prepared for that.
SPECIAL REPORT 2
Vatican treasurer found guilty of raping two choirboys in cathedral
Disgraced Cardinal George Pell arriving at court in Melbourne, Australia.
By Melissa Davey, of the Guardian, and Bill Heaney, of the Democrat
Cardinal George Pell, once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic, has been found guilty of child sexual abuse after a trial in Melbourne.
Pell is well known in Scotland and was the man chosen by the Scottish bishops as the keynote speaker at the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland’s St Andrew’s Conference in Glasgow in 2013.
It was described by the Scottish Catholic Observer as “an uplifting, major international Catholic conference on the New Evangelisation that built on the recent launch of the Year of Faith in Scotland”.
Pell was appointed in 2012 to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation. He was introduced to the conference by leading Catholic academic Professor John Haldane, of St Andrews University.
Archbishop Tartaglia and the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
He told Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the organisers present from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and more than 300 delegates that ‘to reverse decline’ in the Church in a post Christian society ‘is to insist that the fundamentals are in place.’
“We have to confront this bad news with determination,” Pell said, later adding “no New Evangelisation is possible without a sound Catechesis for the young.”
But yesterday it was revealed that a jury delivered the unanimous verdict of guilty of abuse on 11 December in Melbourne’s county court.
But the result was subject to a suppression order and could not be reported until now.
A previous trial on the same five charges, which began in August, resulted in a hung jury, leading to a retrial.
Pell, who is on leave from his role in Rome as Vatican treasurer, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a child under the age of 16 as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
The offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, months after Pell was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.
He is due to be sentenced next week but may be taken into custody at a plea hearing on Wednesday, having been out on bail since the verdict and recovering from knee surgery.
Pope Francis, who has previously praised Pell for his honesty and response to child sexual abuse, has yet to publicly react, but just two days after the unreported verdict in December the Vatican announced that Pell and two other cardinals had been removed from the pontiff’s council of advisers.
Pell told delegates on that visit to Glasgow that ‘Christ is too often displaced from the centre’ of our faith and worship by worthy but nonetheless secular issues.
He also spoke publicly of the abuse problems within the Australian Church and the Church at large.
“Few, if any, people 50 years ago expected the dark stain of sexual abuse to have spread so widely across the Church, while varying in extent even within countries,” he said.
Pell added: “It does not need to be said that this is the most important and powerful barrier to the New Evangelisation.”
He mentioned the deep concern among Catholics and the wider community over abuse and the fact that Church officials sometimes failed to deal appropriately with it.
“Substantial steps have been taken procedurally in the last 16 years,” Pell added.
“We would hope that the Church community is purer and stronger in itself after removing much of this criminal moral cancer.
“However, the Church will remain at the foot of the cross until every cancer cell is excised.”
He said that ‘the Catholic family is the heart of the Church and we need to encourage that heart to have a strong prayerful beat, so its members can be effective witnesses to the New Evangelisation.”
He encouraged families to take the advice of a US bishop to ‘eat together, pray together and go to Mass together.’
Pell spoke also of the Church’s need for allies: religious, such as ‘Gospel Christians,’ and secular, to protect Christian values in the public square.
“We need secular allies also, especially civil and political leaders,” he said.
“Even in these troubled times, there remains an enduring respect and admiration for the Church because of its commitment to serving the poor and its contribution to education, health care and human dignity.”
While Pell spoke of the need for orthodox and authentic Catholicism— and spoke of his personal preference for traditional practices, such as that of putting a Crucifix between the congregation and priest during Mass, so the centre of the celebration is not the priest—he saw renewal in keeping with the hermeneutic continuity of the Church as key.
He told the audience that a return to a pre-Second Vatican Council world would be bad for the Church.
“Instead of lamenting the helps traditional Catholic life gave across the centuries in cities, towns and villages and somehow rejoicing in small numbers in our hostile world, we need to be working to rebuild our defences, to shore up Catholic identity and practice sociologically rather than insisting on the removal of those surviving props,” he said.
“We all know what lies at the heart of the New Evangelisation, that it is not like the higher mathematics of rocket science; beyond the reach of most of us.
“Rather, the New Evangelisation is like losing weight. We know this is achieved by eating less and exercising.
“The challenge is to do what is required and, in Australia at least, to convince many that they should lose weight.”
Archbishop Tartaglia, who had a short time before attended the Synod for Bishops on New Evangelisation on behalf of Scotland’s bishops, said that he was delighted with the calibre and success of the conference, adding
He told the delegates: “Cardinal Pell has been a hugely influential figure in Australian society and a powerful voice in the English-speaking Catholic world for more than a decade.’”
The full version of Pell’s contribution to the Scottish conference had been taken down from the Catholic newspaper’s website yesterday.
Pell’s conviction and likely imprisonment will cause shock waves through a global Catholic congregation and is a blow to Francis’s efforts to get a grip on sexual abuse.
It comes just days after an unprecedented summit of cardinals and senior bishops in the presence of the pope at the Vatican, intended to signal a turning point on the issue that has gravely damaged the church and imperilled Francis’s papacy.
The suppression order covering the case was lifted by county court chief judge Peter Kidd on Tuesday morning.
Pell walked from the Melbourne courtroom to a waiting car surrounded by a phalanx of police and press. He was jeered by survivors of sexual abuse who had gathered outside.
“You’re going to burn in hell. Burn in hell, Pell,” one man yelled.
Pell did not comment but a statement released by his solicitor Paul Galbally said the cardinal “has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so. An appeal has been lodged against his conviction and he will await the outcome of the appeal process.”
One of the complainants at the centre of the case, who cannot be named, asked for privacy in the wake of the suppression order being lifted, saying he was “a regular guy working to support and protect my family as best I can.
“Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle,” he said in a statement. “Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.
“At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust. I would like to thank my family near and far for their support of me, and of each other.”
Before returning to Australia to face the charges, Pell was for three years’ prefect of the secretariat for the economy of the Holy See, making him one of the most senior Catholics in the world.
He was one of Pope Francis’s most trusted advisers, and was handpicked to oversee the Vatican’s complex finances and root out corruption.
On the day of the dramatic verdict, after a four-and-a-half-week trial, Pell stood in the dock showing no reaction and staring straight ahead.
One room was silent as the foreman told the court that the jury had found the cardinal guilty on all charges.
Pell’s defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, when asked by journalists if he would appeal, responded: “Absolutely.”
The jury found that in the second half of December 1996, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell walked in on two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, pictured right, and sexually assaulted them.
One complainant, who is now aged 35, said he and the other choirboy had separated from the choir procession as it exited the church building. The prosecution’s case hinged on his evidence, as the other victim died in 2014 after a heroin overdose. Neither victim told anyone about the offending at the time.
After leaving the procession, the complainant said, he and the other boy sneaked back into the church corridors and entered the priest’s sacristy, a place they knew they should not be.
There they found some sacramental wine and began to drink. The complainant alleged that Pell had walked in on them and told them something to the effect that they were in trouble.
One complainant said the attack lasted only a few minutes, and the boys left the room afterwards, hung up their choir robes and went home.
Being in the choir was a condition of the complainant’s scholarship to attend St Kevin’s College, an elite independent school in the affluent inner-Melbourne suburb of Toorak, the court heard.
“I knew a scholarship could be given or taken away even at that age,” the complainant told the court. “And I didn’t want to lose that.
“It meant so much to me. And what would I do if I said such a thing about an archbishop? It’s something I carried with me the whole of my life.”
The complainant alleged that either later that year in 1996, or in early 1997, Pell attacked him again.
He said he was walking down a hallway to the choristers’ change room, again after singing at Sunday solemn Mass at the cathedral, when Pell allegedly pushed him against the wall and squeezed him up against it.
The complainant told the court that after the attacks he could not fathom what had happened to him and that he dealt with it by pushing it to the “darkest corners and recesses” of his mind.
In his police statement, the complainant said he remembered Pell “being a big force in the place”.
“He emanated an air of being a powerful person,” he said. “I’ve been struggling with this a long time … and my ability to be here. [Because] I think Pell has terrified me my whole life … he was [later] in the Vatican. He was an extremely, presidentially powerful guy who had a lot of connections.”
In his closing address, the crown prosecutor Mark Gibson told the jury their verdict would come down to whether they believed the complainant beyond reasonable doubt. They should find the complainant an honest witness, Gibson said.
Pell pleaded not guilty from the beginning. He was interviewed by a Victorian detective, Christopher Reed, in Rome in October 2016, and the video of that interview was played to the court. In that interview Pell described the allegations as “a load of garbage and falsehood”.
When Reed said the attacks were alleged to have occurred after Sunday Mass, Pell responded: “That’s good for me as it makes it even more fantastically impossible.”
Pell’s defence team told the jury there were so many improbabilities in the prosecution’s case that they should conclude the abuse could not have happened.
Richter said it was unlikely that two boys could leave the choir procession after Mass unnoticed or that the sacristy would be unattended or left unlocked.
Richter used a PowerPoint presentation in the retrial during his closing address to the jurors, something he did not do in the first.
One of the slides read: “Only a madman would attempt to rape two boys in the priests’ sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn Mass.”
In his directions to the jury, Kidd told them that the trial was not an opportunity to make Pell a scapegoat for the failures of the Catholic Church.
The jury took less than four days to reach their unanimous verdict.
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, said: “The bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal’s legal team has lodged. Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served.”
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Vatican meeting shows a church incapable of holding itself to account
Pope refuses to create a Vatican tribunal to try bishops who ignore or cover up abuse
Maeve Lewis for The Irish Times
It is more than 30 years since the scandal of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church began to emerge across the English-speaking world.
At first a few isolated survivors told their stories, soon followed by an avalanche of revelations. Regardless of the location, the same patterns appear: disclosures followed by cover-ups, priests relocated to abuse again. The church’s response has been abysmal, and it is only through investigations by the civil authorities that we now know the full truth. In Ireland, the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports each revealed the same dismal pattern: children were recklessly endangered to protect the status of the church.
While bishops’ conferences in some countries have put in place good child safeguarding procedures, both they and the Vatican have struggled to develop an adequate response to the bishops and cardinals who were part of the cover-up. The recent long-delayed defrocking of American cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the conviction of Australian cardinal George Pell for sexual offences show that sexual predators exist in the highest echelons of the church, but there has been little effort to hold accountable those leaders who concealed sexual crimes by priests under their authority.
When Pope Francis, pictured above left, was elected, many survivors hoped for a fresh and vigorous approach to child protection. From putting in place a Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 to calling a Vatican Summit on Child Protection last week, hopes were high that an era of zero tolerance had begun.
Sadly, the reality has been different, from failing to implement the recommendations of his own commission to calling Chilean survivors liars. The Pope has refused to create a Vatican tribunal to try bishops who ignore or cover up abuse. In November the Pope forbade the American bishops’ conference from holding a vote on the introduction of penalties for senior churchmen.
It is still not mandatory for dioceses across the world to have a child safeguarding policy in place.
- Australian journalists face threat of jail in wake of Pell case
- Timeline: The rise and fall of George Pell
- Vatican treasurer George Pell found guilty of child sexual abuse
The Pope has made several important statements over the years abhorring the sexual abuse of children, including during his visit to Ireland in August 2018. He has apologised to survivors again and again. But he has never proposed any tangible changes in Vatican law or policy that would tackle sex offenders and their protectors in a meaningful way.
This culminated in the Pope’s astonishingly defensive closing address to the Vatican summit on Sunday. Almost half the speech focused on the prevalence of child sexual abuse in families and communities, as if to minimise the incidence of clerical abuse. He is correct: fewer than five per cent of abused children are assaulted by clerics. And the high prevalence of sexual abuse within families is a major and largely hidden tragedy that we have so far utterly failed to tackle. But this is hardly the point at a summit specifically dealing with clerical sexual abuse; when we know that literally thousands of Catholic priests and religious across the world have sexually harmed children.
Dealing with priests who sexually abuse is one thing. They can be brought before the courts and offered treatment to reduce their level of risk.
Dealing with those who protect them is quite another matter. The Vatican has thousands of files in its archives which it consistently refuses to release to civil authorities across the world. It has declined to fully co-operate with State inquiries, including the Murphy inquiry which investigated Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese. It has refused to name the senior churchmen who suppressed evidence against abusers. McCarrick was elevated to cardinal despite years of allegations piling up against him. Will we ever know who protected him and to what purpose?
Perhaps the most reprehensible section of the Pope’s speech on Sunday was when he castigated those who are demanding that bishops be held accountable as “exploiting, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones”. With all due respects, Your Holiness, our only interest is to keep children safe.
Civil authorities across the globe were historically complicit in colluding with the Catholic Church to conceal crimes of child abuse, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged during the Pope’s visit. But that climate is changing. Pell, occupying the third most powerful position in the Vatican, is spending his first days in prison in Melbourne. French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is currently on trial for covering up sexual abuse in the diocese of Lyon. Following the Pennsylvania grand jury report last year, several US states are planning similar investigations. They will all reveal the same familiar truths.
Despite real progress in the Irish church and elsewhere, it is time that we acknowledge that the Vatican is incapable of true accountability.
After decades of Vatican procrastination, we must accept that it is only when the civil authorities intervene through inquiries or criminal justice proceedings that the Catholic Church will be held to account. The summit on child protection was regrettably another missed opportunity to keep children safe from sexual harm.
Maeve Lewis is executive director of One in Four, an organisation which specialises in supporting survivors of sexual violence and abuse .