I helped to oversee safeguarding in England and Wales. I was left wondering if some bishops really ‘get it’

When Pope Francis wrote his recent letter on abuse to the world’s Catholics, the BBC interviewed a survivor in the United States. Asked what she thought of the letter, she replied “nothing”, as it only contained words and proposed no actions. “I have no faith in the Church any more,” she said, “but I still have faith in God. And I know the difference.”

This was a devastating judgment on Church leaders who, even after all these years, fail to meet abuse survivors face to face and take action against those who have covered up crimes, putting the reputation of the institution before the criminally destroyed childhood of victims.

Last week the bishops of England and Wales announced that they had asked the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) to commission “an entirely independent and comprehensive review” of safeguarding. It also emerged that Cardinal Vincent Nichols will give evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in November.

These are welcome developments, but it would be unwise for Church leaders in England and Wales – and, indeed, Scotland – to stand back from the current global abuse scandal as if all were well here.

I served as chairman of the NCSC from 2012 to 2015. The commission is an independent body working within the Catholic Church in England and Wales. In that role I recognised some good safeguarding practice, in particular the work of diocesan safeguarding coordinators. But what I experienced led me to ask if some leaders still don’t “get it” when it comes to abuse.

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