Catholic Church in Scotland urged to create independent safeguarding watchdog
The Catholic Church in Scotland should create a stronger independent safeguarding service as a critical step to “rebuild trust” following abuse scandals, a review group has recommended.
The Independent Review Group (IRG) wants the church to review the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service (SCSS), saying a strengthened, independent and resourced service is a “crucial step to promote transparency and restore credibility”.
The group, set up by the church in 2017 to monitor its response to a major review of safeguarding and child protection, found a good start had been made on implementing the McLellan Commission recommendations but much more needs to be done.
In addition to reviewing the safeguarding service, the IRG makes a series of further recommendations in its first report, including on support for abuse survivors.
The group wants each diocese to have a clear policy statement on access and support for survivors, an independent person they can approach for advice, and to consider including survivor representation on safeguarding decision-making bodies.
It also recommends further refining safeguarding audits, which should be independently scrutinised, and having a national training plan on the issue.
The report states: “The Bishop’s Conference of Scotland should give detailed and urgent consideration to the creation of a strengthened, resourced and independent SCSS with appropriate professional support as a crucial step to promote transparency and restore credibility.”
It continues: “Much still needs to be done to ensure victims of abuse are seen, heard and supported by the church and the process of healing begins to take place.
“Improvement in policy and openness to learning from the audit process will start to shift culture.
“However, investment is required to develop a properly resourced professional safeguarding service.
“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.”
Group chairwoman Baroness Helen Liddell said: “The problem of how the church is perceived is a universal one and signals the need for real and far-reaching change.
“The vigour with which change is brought about, and is seen to be brought about, will determine whether credibility and trust can ever be restored.
“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.
“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.”
Bishop Joseph Toal, who oversees the SCSS, welcomed the report and said it would be given “serious consideration”.
He added: “Since setting up the Independent Review Group, we have taken steps to improve safeguarding practices in all eight dioceses in Scotland.”
These include publishing a manual of safeguarding procedures, revising the annual safeguarding audit carried out in all Catholic parishes and having independent audits of safeguarding practices in two dioceses, which will be extended to all.
Bishop Toal said: “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.”