More complacency and cover-ups in the Catholic Church

By Keith Porteous Wood, NSS Executive Director

Just days after the front page revelations about clerical child abuse at west London’s Ealing Abbey, reported in last week’s Newsline, came more unwelcome front page news for the Catholic Church: “Sex abuse fears grow – Catholic Church orders new inquiry in England.”

The former safeguarding officer for the diocese of Plymouth, Chris Jarvis, has just been jailed for 12 months for having 4,000 child abuse images on his work laptop computer, including ten involving sadistic violence, the most serious category.

When Jarvis was arrested, he was leading an inquiry into clerical child abuse at Buckfast Abbey inDevonalthough reports so far claim that that the inquiry had not been compromised by Jarvis’s obsessive predeliction for child pornography.

The Diocese of Plymouth has asked the NSPCC to review its child protection work.

The scale of abuse now being uncovered at Buckfast Abbey is disturbing. Paul Crouch “Father Benedict” had already been jailed for ten years in 2007 for a string of offences with boys stretching over 20 years. One victim had been “so terrified that he hid in his locker” and had “complained to the school Matron in 1987”, After an internal investigation, Crouch was allowed to carry on teaching and the police were not alerted. Father William Manahan, called “Daddy Prior”, was jailed, also in 2007, for 15 months for abuse between 1971 and 1978. Revealingly, he had become Abbot in the meantime.

Doubts have since been raised about a (now deceased) monk, Father Edward Stewart who is alleged to have repeatedly abused a young boy over three years. Even worse is that it has become clear that Stewart was moved around parishes inBritainandScandinaviadespite (and of course because of) “frequent complaints about his behaviour”.

Buckfast Abbey’s current safeguarding co-ordinator Father James Courtney discovered a trunk of photographs of adolescent boys engaged in sexual activities belonging to Stewart but neither he nor the Abbot reported them to the police, and the incriminating material was destroyed.

The events at Ealing and Buckfast will almost certainly lead to a major national inquiry. The head of the Catholic Church in Englandand Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, can expect to be dragged into this for his complacency. When chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in 2008 he wrote in its annual report: “Anyone reading this report will see how much the Catholic Church has achieved over these last six years and be proud of that achievement.”

Long before the latest revelations, I had already given evidence to the inquiry into Ealing led by Lord Carlile that the existing child protection arrangements are confusing, inadequate and insufficiently independent. In particular I criticised the acceptance that clerics — indeed anyone connected with the Church — could be child protection officers, which is shown in at least the Buckfast case above to be completely inappropriate. I do not doubt that many child protection officers are doing a difficult job well. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious to all but those with a half-hearted attitude to child protection that those with the most to hide would make strenuous efforts to assume such policing roles, given the chance.

And that chance had been given by the Cumberlege Commission, led by Baroness Cumberlege who sometimes speaks in the House of Lords for the Catholic bishops and was appointed by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, himself no stranger to criticism for his gross mismanagement of child abuse. Critics will not be surprised this was no bar to him being appointed by the pope to make an Apostolic Visitation to Armagh archdiocese to investigate the Church’s role over child abuse, but probably wouldn’t quite go as far as maintaining it was a necessary qualification for doing so.

The saga at Ealing continues. Bishop John Arnold unwisely told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme that “The procedures are working pretty well and they are in place,”; “I don’t think there is any intention of the Church to be obstructive.” This prompted probably the best informed observer of events in Ealing to respond “Most of the abuses committed by Ealing monks have been perpetrated against pupils of St Benedict’s School. If the school is being excluded from the scope of the visitation, then I stand by my statement in The Times last week that the visitation has been designed to achieve nothing at all. The design is even more careful than I was aware of at the time.”