Friday, 18 April 2014

How effective is the Pope's Apology?

Pope Francis
The head of the Catholic Church has issued an apology for clerical sex abuses against children.
Speaking to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) at the Vatican in April, Pope Francis said: “I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests – large in number, but not in proportion to the total – have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children."

The history of sexually abusive priests would make any safeguarding board cringe. Somehow, the way in which the church cloaks any mention of child abuse in religious language clouds the real point, and enshrouds it in mist and dogma. Often the victim is prayed for as though he needs absolution rather than an apology from the abusive priest.

I have been dealing with abuse cases for nearly 20 years. The scandals of abuse by American Priests came to the surface first. As the scandal swept America, we heard that the then Pope announced that abuse was an American problem, and that it did not extend to Italy or the Holy See. How wrong he was.

The worldwide publicity prompted victims to have the courage to come forward, and make disclosures about the past with the result that the numbers of priests exposed has risen exponentially to thousands.

There then arose the scandal of the Vatican edict prohibiting the Catholic hierarchy from reporting abusive priests, written in Latin, and designed to keep it undercover. The thrust was forgiveness of sins, and the movement of an abusive priest, after he had "promised" not to do it again or even approach children, from one parish to another. The crime was not reported to the police, with the result, in many cases, that the Priest then broke his promise and carried on abusing again. After all, how can someone addicted to child abuse resist their primeval urges? The famous English priest Father Hill comes to mind.

So how genuine is Pope Francis apology? Well he seems humble enough, having come from working class beginnings in Argentina. He has refused to live in the luxurious papal surroundings or use a limousine, rather choosing a simple Ford Focus, and standard garb to wear. So the signs are good. However:-
  • In January the Vatican was forced to admit that it does not force priests to report child sex crimes to authorities
  • 400 priests were defrocked in the years 2011 and 2012.And what of these criminal defrocked individuals, you might ask? Well, we don't know. They remain free and at liberty to abuse again. Their identities are unknown, as are their whereabouts, and the nature of their crimes. Of them we know not much. Pope Francis has done nothing to help arm authorities with information they would need to apprehend these criminals.
  • On 1 July, the United Nation's Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sent a request to the pope for "detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers, or nunnery" from the past fifteen years, and set 1 November as a deadline for a reply. Missing the deadline, on 4 December, Pope Francis responded saying it was not the way his government practised to "disclose information on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings" and "that the Vatican can provide information only about known and alleged child sex crimes that have happened on Vatican property." 
  • There are many other examples in the Huffington Post blog from whence this blog is partially derive.
When one has to deal with the Catholic Church in litigation it is a whole different ball game. They fight hard and long, in the hope that the victim or his lawyers will give up before the case ends. They take technical points to throw a smoke screen over the real point - abuse of a child. Richard Scorer in his book "Betrayed" devotes a whole chapter to the subject - a recommended good read:-
  •  In a Group Action my firm QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden were running against a Catholic Society which used to be known as Liverpool Catholic Social Services, the Group started in 1997 and did not conclude until 2012 - 15 years of litigation funded principally and conducted by their insurers. In that period of time they tried to strike the case out on three occasions using the time delay argument - or rather these cases are too old to go to trial. This avoids having to challenge the victims on whether the abuse took place even though there were numerous convicted abusers at the two children's homes in question - St. Vincent's in Formby and St. Aidan's in Widnes.
  • At another home run by the same organisation - St. George's in Southport, the Merseyside Police told me that they received 122 complaints against 96 alleged abusers - it is worth saying that the culprits were not priests but civilian care workers.
  • In the St. Williams Group Litigation run by my good friend David Greenwood, the Catholic Organisation defending the Group - the De la Salle Brothers - argued that because of their constitution one could not simply issue proceedings against them but rather the victims had to choose which of several trustees and governing bodies were responsible over a period of years. Hours of wasted time and cost was spent tracing and naming up to 150 Defendants - a tactical argument that collapsed eventually.
  • The church often uses that old chestnut - a priest is not an employee of the Church but rather a man with a calling to God who devotes his life to his parish. He is answerable to his community and not the church, and therefore, of vital importance legally, the Church are not legally responsible for his actions. That argument has been tried and taken to the House of Lords unsuccessfully and at great costs by Church Lawyers several times
So am I encouraged by this new apology - cynically no - not until the Church stops defending civil litigation with a fury and gets round the table to not only mediate properly but also comes up with some proper cash to compensate the victims and pay their lawyers properly. There have been many attempts to force the Church to do this, and it all goes well with many beatitudes of holy meaning until the subject of compensation and an admission of guilt comes up, then the lawyers intervene, or rather their insurers and close the whole thing down.

The Stop Church Child Abuse campaign is pushing for a public enquiry. Will we we see it happen? Will we ****.................



  1. It would be interesting to know if there's any substance to the new Pope's words and shows of humility. It's curious how the Catholic Church seems to be able to do different things at once, like making apologies but apparently resisting litigation which could lead to compensation, and combining ostentatious humility with extravagant wealth. Just how much the Church must be worth is difficult to imagine, but I caught a glimpse a couple of years ago when Prague. There's a church there called the Loreto ( which had a room with a display of monstrances. They were all beautiful objects made of precious materials and each one must have been extremely valuable, but one stood out from all the rest, the "Prague Sun": Just one object in one collection in one church in one city that isn't Rome!

  2. I agree that there is an inherent conflict of values in the Catholic Church and other churches where on the one hand they try to help the poor and needy, yet display items of immense value in their churches. I agree. It is an accident of history, but on the other hand it is at the same time an anachronism.