Catholic Church addresses abuse record

High profile abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church throughout the 1990s did untold damage to its reputation and standing in the UK and throughout the world.

But seven years since the Nolan report into child protection in the church, much progress has been made to address the issue. In fact, the progress has been deemed to be so rapid that the body created in 2002 to head that change, the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca), was shut down in July.

In its place are two bodies designed to cement a cultural change on the ground: the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), which will advise England and Wales’ 22 dioceses on good practice, and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, which will develop policy and monitor how it is being implemented. Chairing the latter is Bill Kilgallon, former chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

Safeguarding is integral

“Any institution that has had problems takes a long time to build confidence, but we’re in a much better place than five years ago,” says Kilgallon.

“When Copca was set up it was important that it was seen as having some distance from the church. Six years later, the work of safeguarding is now integral – it’s not optional or bolted on. It’s about creating an environment where abuse doesn’t occur.”

All but a handful of parishes now have voluntary local child protection representatives, while each diocese has a commission on child protection. So with systems already in place, the commission can focus on reviewing existing policy – including reducing the jargon volunteers have to cope with.

The commission will also be able to name areas where systems are not working well. But Kilgallon says this is a last resort that he hopes won’t have to be used. So far the reaction to change has been largely positive.

CRB checks

“There are people who write to the Daily Mail grumbling there are too many checks. I’ve have more CRB checks than I could paper a wall with, but that’s a minor inconvenience next to the fact that it helps the right people come into the work,” he says.

Kilgallon draws frequent parallels with abuse that has occurred in other institutions, implying it was not exclusive to the Catholic Church. “There was a culture right across society of naivety and abuse, and an unwillingness to deal with it. And the more trusted the person, the more damaging the abuse.”

The commission can draw on Kilgallon’s vast experience in the field. He presided over the creation of the UK’s largest NHS trust set up charity, the St Anne’s Community Services, while in his twenties to help the homeless in Leeds and has lead a range of inquiries into abuse. It would be a cliché to say that he is a no-nonsense Yorkshireman who gets on with things were it not for the fact that he continues to do the work of three people.

“People laugh that I had a retirement do when I left Scie. I’m now chief executive of St Gemma’s Hospice [in Leeds], which is full time, and a member of the West Yorkshire Police Authority.”

Best experiences

He says that the two best experiences that help in his current role are “having been a foster carer for 30 years seeing a variety of children keeps me rooted in why we need good safeguarding. I spent most of my working life with homeless people and those with drug and alcohol issues. A number of those had seen abuse in their early lives, and I suppose that’s given me a determination to prevent that happening.”

That determination is underpinned by an unwavering faith. Kilgallon says that the church has such a bad reputation because of the deep-seated trust that has been abused in the past. But it is trust and faith that has allowed to change so quickly and to continue to offer something for children and young people.

“I spent the afternoon a few weeks ago with a group of Catholic people with learning disabilities. It was a life-giving experience seeing them enjoying each others company, and being together in the church setting that they shared. This was a really positive contribution to their lives.

“That’s what makes me positive we should be doing this work – when you have a gathering like that, people know they are welcomed into a place of safety.”

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This article was published in the 28 August edition of Community Care under the headline Church Faith Rebuilds Trust

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