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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Reporting of child abuse should be mandatory, regardless of canon law

The National Secular Society has made a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council asking it to press the UK Government to tackle the serious problems emerging over large scale child abuse and its cover-up in the Catholic Church.

One recommendation is that reporting of suspected child abuse should be mandatory, and failure to do so should be a criminal offence. Ireland is, belatedly, likely to take this step, largely as a result of pressure from the UN.

The submission is made as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process under which member states’ Human Rights records are scrutinised. The closing date for submissions in respect of the UK has just passed.

Institutional child abuse has been particularly prevalent in Roman Catholic schools and residential establishments. The NSS’ submission follows the recent revelations about decades of wholesale abuse undetected until recently at St Benedict’s School, attached to the Benedictine Ealing Abbey. The school was given a clean bill of health by the Independent Schools Inspectorate until recent revelations sparked international controversy. The abuse has been subject to an internal enquiry by Lord Carlile and the only Vatican “apostolic visitation” (or enquiry) in the UK for a century.

An even greater level of abuse has taken place in St Williams, Market Weighton in Yorkshire, where the Diocese of Middlesbrough and the order running the school, the de la Salle Brothers, are in conflict about who should pay compensation. As court appeals drag on, victims are dying without compensation. Revelations were also made in the last month about child abuse at Buckfast Abbey.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “As in many countries in Europe, news is leaking out about clerical child abuse in Roman Catholic establishments on a significant scale. It is appalling that this has gone undetected for so long, and often because the Church itself has conspired to hide it from view. Our children deserve far better care.

“The Government needs to commission a formal enquiry or Royal Commission to examine the extent of abuse, why it took so long to detect and to recommend minimum standards of child protection in such institutions where there must be improved inspection.

“The Government must also make sure that victims are appropriately compensated without having to go through harrowing court cases, as has happened so far. Such a scheme operates in Ireland. The Government must also do more to ensure that perpetrators are punished, including those who knowingly moved abusing clerics on to new positions where they reoffended”.

The submission also recommends that:

  • the UN examines the desirability of having Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords as of right.
  • that legal restrictions be placed on arbitration courts that are being run on sharia principles as they infringe the human rights of women and children when ruling on issues such as rape, domestic violence and child custody – which they do even though this is beyond the remit of the arbitration legislation.
  • that discrimination on the grounds of caste be made illegal.
  • that immigrants from sexual minorities should be permitted to stay in this country if they risk persecution by being sent back to states where persecution is rampant.
  • that employment discrimination that is permitted to operate in state-funded schools run by religious bodies be challenged.

The submission was made jointly by Lord Avebury, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the National Secular Society.

Read the submission in full

Published Wed, 23 Nov 2011