The Catholic Church in England and Wales has offered an “unreserved apology” to all sexual abuse victims who have suffered in the Church, following the publication of an independent inquiry released Thursday.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published a report on child sex abuse in England and Wales on Oct. 20.

The report scrutinises the handling of abuse cases through a national lens and focuses in detail on several institutions and organizations, including the Catholic Church, concluding that “The investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales revealed a sorry history of child sexual abuse where abusive priests and members of religious orders and institutions preyed on children for prolonged periods of time.”

The report goes on to note that the Church has failed to support victims, while at the same time taking “positive action” to protect perpetrators and the Church’s reputation.

Following the report’s release, the Catholic Council for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which was launched in 2015 to coincide with the beginning of the national inquiry’s work, released a statement reiterating the Church’s regret about grave failures and a commitment to making the Church a safe place for children and vulnerable people in the present and the future.

The statement said: “Today, the Panel of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published its final report after seven years of work. The Catholic Council welcomes this report, thanks the Inquiry for its work and will carefully study its contents and recommendations.

“In the work of safeguarding all who are members of, or come into contact with, the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, at no point will the Church stop on its journey of dedicated effort in making the life and work of the Church safe for all.

“Before the publication of the case study report into the Roman Catholic Church in November 2020, the Church commissioned an independent review into its safeguarding work and structures which is in the process of being implemented. The new national safeguarding body, the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA), which began operational work in April 2021, provides a regulatory function to organisations within the Church in England and Wales ensuring that standards are upheld, and all safeguarding processes adhered to. These changes were fully aligned with the Inquiry’s recommendations in the case study report.

“Key to this progress is the voice of victims and survivors of abuse which has been an integral element in the development of this new agency. The Church remains committed to listening with humility to those who have been hurt by the actions of Church members so that their experiences will inform our work.

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“It is important for us to again offer an unreserved apology to all those who have been hurt by abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and to reaffirm our commitment to the continued refinement and improvement of our safeguarding work to protect all children and the vulnerable.”

The report into the scale of child sex abuse in England and Wales reveals that between 1970 and 2015 the Catholic Church received more than 3,000 complaints against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church.

In this time, the report states that there were 177 prosecutions and 133 convictions, while millions of pounds sterling have been spent on civil cases involving abuse victims and survivors.

Continuing to focus on the case study of the Church in England and Wales, the report states: “Since 2016, there have been more than 100 reported allegations of recent and non-recent child sexual abuse every year. The true scale of abuse over a 50-year period is likely to be much greater.”

The report adds: “Although there have been some improvements to current safeguarding arrangements, more recent audits have identified weaknesses. The culture and attitudes in the Roman Catholic Church have been resistant to change.”

The report also notes failures in the Church of England properly to support and understand victims of sexual abuse and a preoccupation with protecting its reputation over protecting the vulnerable. 

It revealed that 390 people associated with the Church of England from the 1940s to 2018 were convicted of sexual offences against children.

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The report urged the adoption of a law criminalizing the failure to report child sex abuse. It would apply to those who work with children and who were told of the abuse by perpetrators or by children.