The Catholic Church in England and Wales failed to protect children from sexual abuse while consistently prioritising its own reputation and protecting alleged perpetrators, a new investigation has found.
The Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, published on Tuesday, found that the Church had moved abusive priests and monks to different parishes where some continued to prey on children, resisting any external intervention.
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The IICSA said the Catholic Church received more than 900 complaints involving nearly 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse against priests, monks and volunteers between 1970 and 2015.
The inquiry also found that there have been more than 100 reported allegations a year since 2016.
“The report finds that the Church has repeatedly prioritised its own reputation over the welfare of vulnerable children,” IICSA’s chair Alexis Jay said in a video published on social media.
“In recent years, senior church leaders have been resistant to external oversight and have only partially implemented the recommendations of major reviews,” she said.
We've released our investigation report examining the Roman Catholic Church’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse. It finds that the Church prioritised its own reputation above the welfare of children for decades.
— InquiryCSA (@InquiryCSA) November 10, 2020
“For decades, the Church’s moral purpose was betrayed by those who sexually abused children and by those who turned a blind eye to it,” she added.
“Even today, the Holy See’s decision not to cooperate with this investigation appears at odds with the Pope’s promise, to take action on child sexual abuse,” Jay said.
Pope Francis made sweeping changes trying to tackle the sexual abuse crisis following increasing global pressure demanding greater accountability, including the abolition last year of pontifical secrecy over sexual abuse accusations against clerics and the enforcement of a more stringent law against child pornography.
Some critics, however, believe that this is still not enough.
The IICSA report showed how the Church repeatedly failed to support victims and survivors, while taking positive action to protect alleged perpetrators, including moving them to different parishes.
The most senior Catholic leader in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, failed to acknowledge any personal responsibility or show compassion for victims in recent cases examined by the inquiry, according to the investigation.
“At times, the report finds, Cardinal Nichols has shown he cares more about the impact of child sexual abuse on the Catholic Church’s reputation than on victims and survivors,” it said.
The Vatican and the Apostolic Nuncio, its ambassador to the United Kingdom, did not provide a witness statement to the inquiry despite repeated requests.
The investigation gathered accounts of victims and survivors who described the profound and lifelong effect of sexual abuse.
“The psychological effects have continued ever since, resulting in years of unbearable guilt, depression, nightmares, anxiety and PTSD symptoms,” read the testimony of a witness reported by the inquiry.
Another victim said the traumatic experience affected every aspect of his life, including the near destruction of his marriage, and led him to self-harm.
The long-lasting independent public inquiry, which is examining the problem of child sexual abuse across British institutions and society, published similar findings about the Church of England on October 6.