More than 50 priests in England and Wales have been defrocked for clerical sex abuse since 2001, new figures show.
There have been 55 laicisations since 2001 - meaning they have been evicted from the clergy - after new rules were put in place to protect children and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church.
But figures released by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) showed the Church, rocked by a series of historic abuse scandals, received many more complaints of sexual misconduct against the clergy.
And officials said there were a number of cases involving child abuse images where the victims could not be identified, meaning the number of overall victims may be much higher.
The Catholic church plans a national roll-out of a pilot project run in the Hallam Diocese in South Yorkshire which adopted a more pro-active approach to the issue of abuse. The ‘Hurt By Abuse’ initiative resulted in a doubling in the number of people reporting abuse in a nine-month period.
The NCSC said the church’s handling of allegations was improving but David Greenwood, a Yorkshire-based solicitor specialising in clerical abuse claims, maintained they should be dealt with by an independent body.
The NCSC’s annual report showed an increase in the number of perpetrators subject to “covenants of care”, essentially withdrawing them from ministering and severely restricting what they could do in the Church, from 384 at the end of 2013 to 462 at the end of 2014.
There were 79 allegations of abuse against children during the last year. They involved 97 different forms of abuse against 118 victims, abused by 83 suspects.
NCSC acting chairman Chris Pearson said: “This report highlights in full the work of the Commission and this announcement is just a snapshot of some of that work and findings over the last year.
“We are moving towards a much more consistent and sensitive approach in response to the victims and survivors of abuse.”
The Commission has approved the setting up of a Survivors Advisory Panel to help inform the work of the NCSC and its safeguarding work within the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
David Greenwood, who works with support group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said allegations of abuse in both the Catholic church and the Church of England should be dealt with independently.
“Whilst both churches have improved their written policies and guidance there are really strong concerns about how that guidance is being implemented,” he said.
“It’s really down to individual bishops in their own dioceses when to report allegations to the police and what action to take.
“The number of recent investigations and prosecutions of clergy for abuse suggests this is an ongoing problem and the response of the church in the past leads us to believe they can no longer be trusted to police themselves.
“I’ve called for a number of years for a completely independent body to take complaints regarding the two main denominations. We may have to wait until the national independent inquiry (into child abuse) makes its recommendations to have something concrete on that.”
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