Archbishop's 'grief' over clerical abuse

Wed, Jan 18, 2012, 00:00

The leader of Catholics in England and Wales is “grief stricken” over incidents of child sexual abuse in Catholic schools, British education secretary Michael Gove has said.

Mr Gove said he had “absolute confidence” that decisions taken by Archbishop Vincent Nichols would be the “right ones” following calls from a group of lawyers for a public inquiry into abuse within church organisations in England and Wales.

“I know from the conversations that I have had with Vincent Nichols that he takes the pastoral care of children in Catholic schools extremely seriously and he is grief stricken by what has happened to children who were entrusted to Catholic schools,” Mr Gove said.

“I think it is right in the first instance for Archbishop Nichols and his team to consider and reflect on how to respond.

“I think anyone who has read some of the stories will have been incredibly moved by the resilience of some of the people who have come through this but also shocked at the way in which the trust of innocent children was so spectacularly betrayed.

“But it is important that the church is given the opportunity to take this forward in a way that can ensure that victims’ feelings and concerns and pain are more than acknowledged - used as a spur to prevent this sort of thing happening again.”

He added: “I don’t think anyone has ever suggested for a moment that Archbishop Nichols is anything other than someone determined to ensure the highest standards in all Catholic schools.

“While there are individual examples of priests and others in positions of trust abusing that trust, I have absolute confidence that the decisions that Archbishop Nichols would take would be the right ones.” Mr Gove’s comments were made after he was asked whether he backed a call for a public inquiry into abuse within church organisations, with powers of access to documents, including those in Catholic diocesan archives, made in a letter published yesterday in the London Times newspaper.

Lawyers working for alleged victims of abuse in institutional care said in the letter that there was now “overwhelming evidence” that religious organisations were “too compromised” by their own failings to police themselves effectively.

They said they were aware of some 41 Catholic priests who have been convicted of serious sexual offences in the recent past.

In November, Lord Carlile called for tougher rules to protect all pupils in faith schools following a report into sex abuse at St Benedict’s Roman Catholic School in Ealing, west London.

It was also revealed last week that seven Roman Catholic monks with links to Downside School in Somerset, a leading Roman Catholic public school, had faced police investigation over child sex and pornography offences.

In a letter to the parents of the 1,500 pupils at the £26,000-a-year school, Dom Aidan Bellenger, the Benedictine Abbot of Downside, apologised to parents and named some of the monks who were picked out by a criminal investigation looking at 50 years of confidential school records.

Of the seven monks from Downside, he said four had faced police action and two, against whom allegations “were founded”, had restrictions imposed on their ministry. The seventh was cleared and allowed to return to his monastic life.

PA