Church in Scotland urged to update sex abuse reporting and prevention protocols

Church in Scotland urged to update sex abuse reporting and prevention protocols

The flag of Scotland. Credit: Lynx Aqua/Shutterstock.
The flag of Scotland. Credit: Lynx Aqua/Shutterstock.

.- A Scottish Catholic organization set up to prevent, report and audit allegations of sexual abuse within the Church can do even more to “rebuild trust” following the sex abuse scandals, an independent review board has found.

The review, conducted by the Independent Review Group (IRG), was a follow-up to a major review undergone by the Church in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, led by Andrew McLellan. That review concluded with the publication of the “McLellan report”, which included a set of recommendations on how to make the Church "a safe place for all,” according to the BBC.

The recently-conducted review by the IRG examined how well the Church had implemented the recommendations of the McLellan report, and where there was still room for improvement.

Baroness Helen Liddell, who headed the IRG review, said that the Church had made "a good start” in addressing and safeguarding against sex abuse, but that more could be done, the BBC reported.

The group recommended that the Church review and strengthen its current safe environment service, the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service (SCSS), as well as provide more accessible, robust support for survivors of abuse.  

The SCSS provides training to diocesan and religious leaders on sex abuse prevention standards in accordance with the bishop’s standards as well as national standards, and facilitates an annual audit of compliancy with national sex abuse prevention standards, according to their website.

The site also contains several downloadable resources, information on upcoming training sessions, and an audit from the bishops of Scotland on abuse allegations that occurred between 1943 to 2005. The IRG recommended the SCSS become more independently sourced, and that any audits conducted by the group be independently reviewed, according to The Press and Journal.

It also recommended that each of the eight dioceses in Scotland have a clear plan and public statement on what resources and support are available for survivors of abuse, as well as an independent person to which survivors can be referred for support and counsel. The IRG also recommended including survivors in groups that make decisions about sex abuse reporting and prevention.

The IRG statement from the review noted that the bishops need to be open to learning from the information that is gathered in abuse audits if they are to move forward in making the Church a safer place for children and vulnerable groups.

“Improvement in policy and openness to learning from the audit process will start to shift culture,” the group stated.

“Commitment to create a dedicated, independent safeguarding service which supports the development needs of the eight dioceses; drives consistency; is empowered to independently investigate concerns or complaints and can act without bias in all its affairs is critical to rebuilding trust with congregations and the general public,” the IRG added.

Liddell said that the problem of sexual abuse in the Church will only be solved through a “change in culture” and with the “vigour” necessary to implement this change.

“There needs to be a change in culture, in capacity, in capability and that needs training, learning, reflection, the utmost transparency, and it needs leadership,” she said, according to The Press and Journal.

“We have found a willingness to adopt that change, but true progress can only come about as a result of deep analysis of strengths and weaknesses,” she added.

Bishop Joseph Toal, who leads the SCSS, said he was grateful for the IRG’s work and that he would give it “serious consideration,” The Press and Journal reported.

“We are determined to apply what we learn, both from the steps we have already taken and from the IRG’s report, and to ensure that the highest standards of safeguarding practice are met throughout the Church in Scotland.”

Tags: Catholic News, Scotland, Clerical sexual abuse