NSS welcomes mandatory reporting of clerical abuse recommendation
Posted: Thu, 20th Oct 2022
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has recommended mandatory reporting of abuse without exemptions for religion.
In its concluding report published today, IICSA recommended child sexual abuse must be reported and should "not be subject" to religious exceptions. It added abuse must be reported even if it is revealed during "sacramental confession", despite objections from religious groups.
The report concluded "neither the freedom of religion or belief nor the rights of parents with regard to the education of their children can ever justify the ill-treatment of children or prevent governmental authorities from taking measures necessary to protect children from harm."
More than one in ten survivors of child sexual abuse who shared their accounts with the inquiry's Truth Project reported sexual abuse in a religious institution. Despite this, there is currently no legal obligation for religious institutions to report child sexual abuse to secular authorities such as the police. Legal counsel for IICSA has observed that religious settings are less well-regulated than donkey sanctuaries.
The National Secular Society has repeatedly called for mandatory reporting of abuse, independent oversight of church safeguarding, abolition of statutes of limitations, and financial redress for survivors.
The report also included harrowing victim testimony of abuse in religious institutions. One child was discouraged by her Jehovah's Witness social worker from reporting sexual abuse perpetrated against her by her family. The social worker said, "you know how Jehovah feels about liars".
Another was told he was "tarnishing the reputation of the Muslim religion" and described feeling "let down" by Muslim authority figures "who have authority to deal with this" but prevented him from speaking out about being sexually abused as a child.
"[E]xcessive corporal punishment" in Roman Catholic schools was often used as a "means … of obtaining sexual gratification".
The report was also highly critical of religious groups' handling of abuse. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England "demonstrated a persistent reluctance to report complaints of child sexual abuse to external agencies", it said.
The inquiry found the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, showed a greater "degree of compassion" to a bishop who committed abuse than his victims. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the now leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, made "no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility".
IICSA, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, is a statutory inquiry established in 2015. The inquiry's original remit to investigate institutional child abuse included only the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as religious settings. This was widened in 2019 to include all major UK religions as well as religious supplementary schools such as madrasas, yeshivot and Sunday schools.
The NSS's response to IICSA forms part of its broader campaign to hold religious institutions to account for clerical abuse. Earlier this year, an NSS recommendation to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child resulted in Chile being ordered to investigate all cases of child abuse in its Catholic Church. The NSS has also urged the UN Human Rights Council to exert pressure on the Vatican to submit long overdue reports on its response to child sexual abuse.
NSS: Mandatory reporting without religious exceptions "necessary and welcome"
NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "This inquiry's examination of religious organisations and settings has revealed a catalogue of safeguarding failures and a shameful history of child sexual abuse and subsequent cover ups.
"The recommendation for mandatory reporting to be an absolute obligation, without religious exception, is therefore necessary and welcome.
"We hope the recommendations will be enshrined in law and we look forward to working with legislators to strengthen proposals where necessary to adequately protect children from abuse."
What the NSS stands for
The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.