THE CATHOLIC Church must do more to tackle sex abuse, according to a report released today.
The Cumberlege Commission report warns the Catholic Church in England and Wales that there is still “room for improvement”, five years after a landmark report recommended sweeping reforms to the way it tackled child sex abuse.
The report says a “great deal” has been achieved in a “remarkably short time” since the publication of the Nolan report which was aimed at improving child protection within the Church.
But the commission warns that the Church risks a “serious reversal” of some of the gains it has made in tackling child abuse if it fails to deal with tensions within its own ranks over the issue.
The review, headed by former Conservative Health Minister Baroness Cumberlege, makes 72 recommendations, including adopting one set of child protection policies across the Church, expressed in the language of the Church.
There should be “much more” focus on safeguarding vulnerable adults within the Church, the report also recommends.
“The Church can quite rightly take pride in the progress it has made and in beginning to distance itself from negative public perceptions,” the report says.
“But the task is far from done and if the tensions that have come to the fore in this review are left unaddressed by those in the Church with the authority to deliver, we believe they risk a serious reversal of some of the important gains made to date.”
The independent commission, set up last year to review the progress of the Church since the 2001 Nolan report, says the Church has addressed either “completely” or “partially” 79 of the 83 recommendations made by Lord Nolan, the Catholic former Law Lord who died in January.
The commission says 55,000 Criminal Records Bureau disclosures were completed on clergy and lay people in contact with children and vulnerable adults between the beginning of 2003 and the end of 2006.
Lady Cumberlege says in the report, “The Catholic Church is a safer place thanks to the endeavours and commitment of so many for whom safeguarding children and vulnerable adults matters.
“What we need now is a sustained effort down to parish and community level – where children and vulnerable adults live – to ensure excellent safeguarding practices are applied consistently everywhere.”
The Nolan report was ordered by Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, because from 1995 to 1999, 21 of the 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of offences against children.
The Cardinal was criticised in 2000 for his handling of the case of Father Michael Hill, who was jailed in 1997 for nine sex attacks.
In Wales, the Catholic church has also suffered its own share of criticism for its handling of sex abuse claims.
In December 2001, the Most Rev Peter Smith, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, pledged to “heal the wounds” of the diocese caused by the conviction of two of its priests for paedophile offences.
Today he is preparing to study the report in depth.
He said, “I will have to wait and read the report to see what it says in detail before I comment on it, it needs sifting through.
“Obviously, we haven’t got the perfect system. I want to see where we are now after five years and what can be done.”
Rev Smith took the place of the late Most Rev John Aloysius Ward who eventually stood down after being accused of not listening to concerns from colleagues and parishioners about two paedophile priests.
It was alleged that Rev Ward, who died earlier this year, ordained Cardiff priest Father Joe Jordan in 1998, despite knowing he had been tried and acquitted of indecently assaulting a young boy.
Jordan, who used football as a way of meeting boys, then went on to indecently assault two nine-year-olds while he was a priest. In 2000, he was sentenced to eight years in jail. Police also found hundreds of pornographic images of children on his computer.
The archbishop was also accused of ignoring warnings about his former press spokesman Father John Lloyd, who was jailed for assaults in 1998.