Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The John Jay Report

The Guardian CiF belief website is running a series of articles this week on the subect Is the Catholic abuse scandal over? While the John Jay report is about the abuse scandal in the US, there has also been a lot of comment about the scandal in the UK. Both St. Benedict's and St. Augustine's have got a mention in the comments. Somebody who goes by the screen name of sonoftherock has been posting cherry-picked bits out the the ISI's November 2009 report on St. Benedict's, and I have pointed out to him that he knows perfectly well that he is being deliberately deceptive, in that he knows that the ISI visited later and came to a somewhat different conclusion, and that the Charity Commission has been extremely critical of the trustees for failing to deal adequately with somebody known to be a threat to children.

The following is my first comment in the series of articles, the first paragraph is a quote from the article itself.
The report shows a clear and steady decline in the incidence of reported abuse from about 1980 onwards. We now know of almost 800 allegations for 1980. In 2008 there were 17.

This is not necessarily an indication of a fall in actual offending rates, and if there has been a fall in offending rates, it is almost certainly not as steep as those bald figures suggest.

The reason is that there can be a very long delay between an offence occurring and the victim summoning the courage to come forward. Therefore there are almost certainly many incidents that occurred in 2008 which have not yet been reported by the victims. A much larger proportion (though by no means all) of the offences from 1980 will have been reported,and so a far larger proportion of the perpetrators are now known about.

And the scandal was never really about the fact that some priests abused children. Paedophiles will always be attracted to occupations which involve contact with children. This is to be expected and there is nothing we know of that can be done to completely prevent this. Therefore what has to happen is to minimise the harm that can be done.

That requires two things above all others. One is effective screening to ensure that those already known to be a threat to children are kept out of jobs that involve care of children. The other is a culture of awareness involving immediate and automatic reporting of incidents to the civil authorities so they can be properly investigated, and any abuser removed from contact with children as quickly as possible.

The scandal of the Catholic church was that its policies and procedures were the exact opposite of this, and could hardly have been better designed to ensure the maximum harm to the largest possible number of victims had they been designed with that specific aim in mind.

Whether the scandal is now over, or at least running down, depends on the extent to which good safeguarding practice has now been implemented across all parishes, schools and other institutions.

I'm sure that in some places good practice has been introduced. But I'm equally sure (from direct experience) that there are also places where there has been a great deal of foot-dragging.

Whether the scandal is on its way to being over depends on the proportion of good practice to bad. Since places with bad practice are going to remain hidden until a problem occurs there, we aren't in a position to know that the scandal is seriously on the decline. I very much hope it is. I fear it is not.

Even if safeguarding practice were now so exemplary across the whole Catholic church worldwide that there was no avoidable case of abuse from today onwards, there are still 30 years worth delayed reports of past abuse yet to occur. The bad headlines aren't going to go away, but their effect could be greatly reduced if the church were in a position truthfully and verifiably to be able to say "we have learned, and our procedures are such that this could never happen today". I don't think we are there yet.


  1. St Augustine's failed by not carrying out CRB checks on staff before being allowed contact with children, why has nothing been done about this negligance?
    Who is ultimately responsible for such a huge error?

  2. Yet another question - Why is the current safeguarding policy unfit for purpose?

    It has so much wriggle room that carrier USS Nimitz could pass through it without a scratch to her paintwork.

    Dear Parents,

    Because England (and the rest of the UK in reality) does not have mandatory reporting of child abuse, no setting (school) is required by law to report either allegations or abuse of any sort.

    It is therefore vital that a school unequivocally commits in writing in its safeguarding policy to reporting all allegations (of abuse) to the LADO. Without this written undertaking you are entirely dependent on the unreliable ‘duty to report.’ The written undertaking is a contract with you the parents, you know what to expect, and of course it is right.

    This is why the London Safeguarding Board, of which Ealing is a member, clearly states at 15.2.1. All allegations of abuse must be reported to the LADO.

    Wherever you look in the current policy, St Augustine’s makes no such commitment. Why?

    The words St Augustine’s uses are of their own making for reasons known only to them. But the policy provides children and parents with nothing on which any reliance can be placed to ensure incidents at this school are handled by the independent LADO.

    It is in the interests of every child and his/her parents, and non-conforming schools if only the ignorant administrations understood why, that 15.2.1 is incorporated into every school policy.

  3. John Jay has damaged its credibility with this report.

    Will it recover?

    In a decade or two.

  4. I quote O'Reilly from last night on Fox News "pfft who cares what The Guardian say!"