From Austen Ivereigh at America magazine.
In talking to the Pope, the things he was particularly interested in England, some of the features of our structures, what impressed him was that there was one set of policies and procedures for the whole Church, for the dioceses and the religious orders, that they all subscribe to. The second is that we have people involved at every level, independent lay people, so that in every parish there is a representative working for safeguarding, a volunteer, in every diocese we have professional safeguarding staff, at least one in each diocese, and in each diocese we have a safeguarding office made up of independent people and church people, always chaired by an independent lay person, with relevant experience – a lawyer, a psychiatrist, a judge, whatever. And then at the national level we have a commission which I chair which has representatives of the Church and a majority of independent lay people, and that commission sets the policies and procedures and then we monitor each diocese and each religious order keeps to the policies we set, and that’s the model we discussed yesterday with the Pope, and he was particularly positive to us that we always involve the statutory authorities any time there is an allegation of abuse in the Church by a lay person, a priest, whoever; and he was very impressed that we have independence built in to the process right the way through so that our aim is to try to prevent future abuse and to make sure that if it does occur it is properly thoroughly and independently investigated.
Is this a model which should be shared with other countries - did the Pope speak about that?
We share our work in other countries and all the safeguarding people from English-speaking countries meet to exchange experiences but it’s not always easy to slot one policy into a different legal system. But the principles we have here of cooperation with statutory authorities – police or social services, depending on the allegation -- and independence at each stage are policies which other countries could incorporate and many of them do.
Did you request the meeting?
I suggested it to the organisers and the Pope’s advisers immediately accepted it. He’s met victims of abuse in many countries, this is the first time he’s met people involved in safeguarding.
Are you content with what he has said and done on this?
If you look at what he said on the plane and in Westminster Cathedral, made it clear that he’s determined that the Church should respond better to the victims of abuse, to give them more support; and I think that’s the challenge to us in this country – to improve the ways we offer support.
You say he was impressed by the way you report to the statutory authorities – what did he actually say?
He said this was very important, the way we cooperate with the civil authorities. He said, “this is very important”.
How many safeguarding officers were present at the meeting?
One parish representative, one safeguarding officer from a diocese, there was one chair of a diocesan commission, there was the national director of our safeguarding office, my deputy chair on the national commission, a religious sister, and then two safeguarding people from Scotland. The meeting lasted about 15-20 minutes and took place in St Peter’s home for elderly people in south London yesterday.
What do you make of the call by some protesters that the Church should hand over its files on abusive priests to the civil authorities?
Well in this country we have no files that we would not share with the statutory authorities. So we’ve got a policy of immediate referral to statutory authorities, and I think, for our countries of England and Wales, it works, and I think we should always be doing that.
Are those files also copied to the Vatican, at the same time as they are given to the statutory authorities?
No there is a procedure when matters get to a certain stage, when they have to be referred to the Vatican.
What stage is that?
Always at the stage of conviction.
So the Vatican doesn’t see any files about abusive priests unless they are convicted?
They may be referred to the Vatican earlier if they are serious. Papers would usually only go to the Vatican if there were an intention to laicise.
What’s changed, if anything, following your meeting with the Pope?
Nothing has changed in our structures and policies, but we had very clear support from the Pope for the approach we are taking, he was really positive about that approach – having independence built in at every stage and referring all allegations to the police and social services, and having very robust selection procedures for selecting volunteers and candidates to the priesthood.