NOVEMBER 15, 2020. The Sunday Times. “The church had one simple thing to achieve: stop its clergy sexually molesting children. It failed.” 

In Today’s Sunday Times their letters editor Stephen Bleach calls for a mandatory reporting law. He was a victim of Laurence Soper who is now serving 18 years after many on the run.

The Vatican has failed to stop abuse. Now the law must

Good news for Catholics and for the parents of the 970,000 children in Britain who attend Catholic schools: the Pope has clamped down on child abuse. He has issued a document condemning paedophile behaviour by clergy and setting out procedures to punish it.

This would be reassuring, if not for one thing. The document — Crimen Sollicitationis, in its grand Latin name — was issued by Pope John XXIII in 1962.

As you may have gathered, it didn’t work too well. Since then, priests have abused thousands of children and the church has made nearly as many promises to stop them. The latest came last week from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, after a report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) documented widespread paedophilia in the English church. It covered 1,753 victims and 931 abusers.

A culture of cover-up was rife, and Nichols himself had put the reputation of the church above the welfare of abused children, said the report. Despite this, he has defied calls for him to resign and the reason is interesting. “I do what I’m told,” he said. “The Holy Father put me here and he tells me to stay here.”

The Holy Father is, of course, Nichols’s boss, Pope Francis. Traditionalists aside, most people rather like Francis. He is humble, friendly, progressive up to a point — he makes nice noises about social justice and welcoming gay believers. Certainly, in the fallout from the IICSA report, it’s the cardinal’s head that the mob is baying for, not the Pope’s.

Which is strange, because when it comes to abusers and the abused, it really isn’t clear whose side Francis is on.

True, he talks a good game. In December 2018 he pledged that the church would “spare no effort … to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes”. Only 11 months later, however, his personal ambassador to Great Britain, Archbishop Edward Adams, hid behind diplomatic immunity to avoid being called as a witness by the IICSA. The inquiry’s report concluded that “their lack of co-operation passes understanding”.

Does it, though? The Pope’s man would have been asked very awkward questions — including some about the rapist monk Andrew Soper who, during five years on the run from British justice, was allegedly able to draw funds from his £350,000 stash in the Vatican bank.

I’ll confess a personal interest here. Soper beat me and, on one nasty occasion, groped me at my Benedictine school. He did much worse to others. It would have been nice to find out what part the Vatican played in keeping him a free man for so long, but the Pope’s commitment to justice didn’t extend to co-operating with a judicial inquiry.

The hypocrisy is shameless but not surprising. Francis has form here. In 2018 he defended Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop accused of covering up for a notorious abusive cleric. Barros later resigned and the cleric was defrocked.

Francis allegedly ignored allegations against the serial abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for years before ordering a Vatican investigation. Its findings, published last week, put the blame for inaction on his predecessors, John Paul and Benedict.

Now he has given his vote of confidence to Nichols, the man who has so clearly failed to protect children from his own paedophile clergy. (Nichols did, in fact, offer to resign — but not because he had presided over a moral cesspool of abuse and cover-up. It was because he had reached the customary age of 75. Nice to get your priorities straight.)

Nichols says he will use the report’s recommendations to “inform” improvements in “safeguarding standards, policies and procedures”. That’s all right, then. “There is plenty more for us to achieve,” he said.

No, there isn’t. The church had one simple thing to achieve: stop its clergy sexually molesting children. It failed. Priests clearly will not obey God’s law. Perhaps they will obey man’s. It’s time for the state to step in, with a mandatory reporting law that makes it a crime to fail to report disclose child abuse. That, at least, shouldn’t take a miracle.


Also covered on Sunday Nov.15, 2020 in BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme  19mins 25 secs in.

Reposted Article from the Sunday Times
Courtesy of  Keith Porteous Wood.