Safeguarding commission attributes rise to papal visit, which encouraged people to come forward

The number of people in the Catholic Church accused of sexual or physical abuse has more than doubled between 2009 and 2010, according to the latest annual report by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC).

The Commission has attributed the rise to the papal visit, during which Pope Benedict met victims of abuse and professionals employed to safeguard the young and vulnerable within the Catholic Church.

The report, released today, said: “The NCSC is both challenged and heartened by the fact that last year and, in particular, following the Pope’s visit more people have felt confident enough to come forward to report incidents of abuse in the hope of finding some kind of reconciliation and closure.”

In 2010 92 individuals were accused of some form of abuse compared with 43 people in 2009.

The Commission, chaired by Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, found that of the total allegations of abuse made last year, the majority were alleged to have taken place during the 1970s or earlier. Last year there were 83 allegations of abuse relating to 92 alleged abusers and 103 victims. Eighteen of the victims alleged that they were abused in 2010, the same number who in 2009 had alleged abuse occurring that year.

Eighty-three allegations were brought forward in 2010. The vast majority of incidents, 63 out of 83, are alleged to have occurred during the 1970s or earlier.
The report identifies five forms of abuse, including sexual, physical, emotional, neglect and possession of child abuse images.

Of the total 92 individuals suspected of abuse 71 are accused of sexual abuse and 15 are alleged to have committed physical abuse. From the accusations made in 2010 of sexual abuse, two alleged abusers were from female religious orders and 61 were priests.

The NCSC has, for the first time, collated statistics on a national scale detailing abuse of vulnerable adults within the Church, which currently stands at a total of 20 allegations of abuse in 2010, including financial and material exploitation.

The NCSC has also examined efforts to safeguard vulnerable people within the Catholic Church. It reports that the proportion of parishes across England and Wales with at least one safeguarding representative currently stands at 96.3 per cent, while Covenants of Care, which are drawn up to monitor a parish where an incidence of abuse is alleged to have occurred, have risen in total from 212 in December 2009 to 266 in December 2010.

The Commission also reported on the instances of laicisation in cases of clerical abuse. It states: “Where an allegation of abuse results in a member of the clergy or religious serving a prison sentence, or where the risk they are considered to pose to members of the Church community, permanent removal from the clerical or religious state (laicisation) is always considered. There have been 37 such laicisations since 2001.”

The report from the NCSC places a heavy emphasis on the role of Pope Benedict XVI in attempting to heal rifts and wounds within the Church following highly publicised incidences of clerical abuse in the run up to the papal- visit.

The report features a personal account of the Pope’s meeting with victims of abuse during his state visit to Britain last year. The eye-witness states: “He [Benedict XVI] prayed briefly and blessed us all. Perhaps more important on this occasion he spoke to each and everyone. He heard personal stories.

“At one point there were tears in his eyes… he told us that he would take things forward.”

On the same day that Pope Benedict met victims of abuse he addressed safeguarding professionals. He said: “It is deplorable that in such marked contrast to the Church’s long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious.”

He continued: “We have all become much more aware of the need to safeguard children, and you are an important part of the Church’s broad-ranging response to the problem.”