LONDON, MARCH 29, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Westminster is affirming the Church’s commitment to protect children from sexual abuse and weed out past offenders.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols affirmed this in an article for The Times newspaper. The Web site of the Diocese of Westminster publicized the complete article, which was published in an edited form by The Times on Friday.
“The child abuse committed within the Catholic Church and its concealment is deeply shocking and totally unacceptable,” he said. “It rightly attracts deep anger.”
“Today, not for the first time, I express my unreserved shame and sorrow for what has happened to many in the Church,” the prelate stated.
He continued, “My shame is compounded, as is the anger of many, at the mistaken judgments made within the Church: that reassurance from a suspect could be believed; that credible allegations were deemed to be ‘unbelievable;’ that the reputation of the Church mattered more than the safeguarding of children.”
The archbishop underlined “the importance of the Paramouncy principle: The safety of the child comes first because the child is powerless.”
He noted that there have been “serious mistakes made within the Catholic Church,” but there has also been “some misunderstanding.”
Archbishop Nichols explained that “within the Catholic Church worldwide, there is a legal structure, its Canon Law,” which must be administered by each diocesan bishop.
“Certain serious offences against that law have to be referred to the Holy See to ensure that proper justice is administered,” he said. “This was again clarified in 2001.”
The prelate noted that “some of these offences are not criminal in public law (such as profanation of the Sacraments), others are (such as offences against children).”
He continued: “The role of the Holy See is to offer guidance and advice so as to ensure that proper procedures are followed, including the confidentially needed for the protection of the good name of witnesses and victims, and for the accused until the trial is completed. It is part of a responsible legal procedure.”
“It is important to state that the document ‘Crimen Sollicitationi,’ (updated in 2001) does not in any way inhibit criminal offences being reported to the public authorities by Catholic dioceses or religious orders,” the archbishop clarified.
He noted that “in recent days, the meaning of this document has been misunderstood or misinterpreted as part of allegations of a ‘cover-up’ by the Holy See.”
“The relationship between the administration of Church law and the criminal law in any particular state is a point of real difficulty and misunderstanding,” Archbishop Nichols acknowledged.
He added, “Nothing in the requirement of Canon Law prohibits or impedes the reporting of criminal offences to the police.”
He affirmed that “since 2001, the Holy See, working through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has encouraged that course of action on dioceses which have received evidence of child abuse and which the diocesan authorities are responsible for pursing.”
In fact, the prelate asserted that “the Canonical procedure is best put on hold until the criminal investigation is complete, right through to its due outcome, whatever that may be.”
Archbishop Nichols reported that “in England and Wales, since 2001, the agreed policy followed by the bishops has been to report all allegations of child abuse, no matter from how far back in the past, to the police or social services.”
In this way, he noted, “we have built up good relationships with those authorities in these matters, including, in some areas, cooperation in the supervision of offenders in the community.”
He affirmed that Benedict XVI, when the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “led important changes made to Church law.”
Among these, the archbishop noted “the inclusion in canon law of internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse offences to include the sexual abuse of all under 18 years of age, the case by case waiving of the statute of limitation, and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders.”
He said of the Pontiff: “He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words.”
“Every year since 2002 the Catholic Church in England and Wales has made public the exact number of allegations made within the Church, the number reported to the police, the action taken and the outcome,” Archbishop Nichols reported.
“As far as I know, no other body or organization in this country does this,” he added. “This is not a cover-up; it is clear and total disclosure.”
The purpose in doing this, the prelate affirmed, “is to make plain that in the Catholic Church in England and Wales there is no hiding place for those who seek to harm children.”
“On this we are determined,” he stated.
The archbishop reported: “In the last forty years, less than half of 1% of Catholic priests in England and Wales (0.4%) have had allegations of child abuse made against them. Fewer have been found guilty.”
He acknowledged, however, that “one case alone is enough to justify anger and outrage.”
Thus, Archbishop Nichols said, the Catholic Church is committed to “the work of safeguarding, needed within any organization and within our society as a whole.”
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