Abuse claims hit Catholic church

The Guardian/July 13, 2004
By Stephen Bates

The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales admitted yesterday that there have been 62 new complaints of sexual and other abuse against its priests and church workers in the last year.

The figure was disclosed as the church issued the second annual report of its child protection office, set up following a succession of abuse scandals.

An independent committee under Lord Nolan to review church procedures recommended that every parish and diocese should have officers specifically appointed to safeguard child protection and the church claimed yesterday that all 22 dioceses in England and Wales and 75% of religious organisations now have such officials in place. Almost all parishes - 2,554 out of 2,663 - also have child protection coordinators.

Eileen Shearer, the director of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca), declared there had been a sea change in the church's culture: "There is no quick fix to this work. We have much yet to do but I think this report shows we have begun the journey towards the goal of making the church as safe as possible in all its activities with vulnerable people," she said.

The adoption of the church's new procedures - costing the parishes about £500,000 a year - followed the humiliation of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the church in England and Wales, after he admitted to mistakes in moving a priest suspected of child abuse to a new post in the 1980s when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. The priest, Father Michael Hill, has subsequently served two prison terms for abuse. In a further case, John Ward, the former Archbishop of Cardiff, was forced to resign by the Pope, after two priests close to him were convicted of abuse.

Abuse prosecutions continue. Last week a priest in the Westminster diocese, Father William Hofton was charged following an investigation.

The report shows that among the 62 claims there were 52 claims of sexual abuse, five physical and two emotional abuse allegations, all of which have been referred to the police. The number of victims totalled 86, indicating some multiple abuse claims. Of those cases, 22 were undergoing initial assessment by statutory authorities, and 23 were undergoing investigation. There had been one police caution but no court hearings or convictions.

Last year though there were six convictions based on earlier complaints. Four priests were removed from active ministry, four more allowed to practise only under supervision and two clergy were laicised - dismissed from the clerical state.

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