Scotland's Catholic bishops have been advised by the US priest appointed by Pope Francis to run the Commission for the Protection of Minors. Monsignor Robert Oliver travelled to Salamanca in Spain to address the bishops during an in-service session at the end of January. The bishops met to discuss the care of survivors of abuse and invited Mgr. Oliver to lead them in their discussions.
In an opinion article in today's (Sunday 8 February) Sunday Times, Bishop Joseph Toal, admitted that the church had to learn from past failings and contnue to develp best practice in collaboration with others. He also describes how the church must "demonstrate to survivors a willingness to listen and an expression of understanding in the context of carefully prepared personal meetings."
Bishop Toal also reveals that the church in Scotland is committed to acting on Pope Francis' call to be "spiritually united with those who have suffered and their families".
The full text of Bishop Toal's article is shown below:
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Bishop Joseph Toal Sunday Times 8.2.15
Last September, Pope Francis named U.S. priest, Monsignor Robert Oliver as the new secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The commission, whose members include survivors of clerical sexual abuse,
mental health professionals and experts in civil and church law, is tasked with laying out a pastoral approach to helping victims and preventing abuse.
The Pope established the Commission to advise him directly and to propose initiatives to encourage local responsibility within the Church, highlighting best practice from around the world and developing programmes of training for the whole Church in this important area.
In recognition of the importance of such work, at their annual In-service meeting at the Scots College in Salamanca at the end of January, Scotland's Catholic Bishops focused on the issue of Safeguarding, with a particular emphasis on the care of survivors of abuse and invited Mgr. Oliver to lead them in their discussions.
The week began with an acknowledgement of how import it was to learn from the past mistakes which the Church had made. In Mgr. Oliver's words; "We did not listen to victims and underestimated the extent of the problem; we missed red flags and warning signs; we were conned by many offenders; and, believed often with professional advice that some offenders could be returned to ministry".
A desire to learn from past failings and continue to develop best practice in future underpinned the week's proceedings. Mgr Oliver was joined by Mrs Tina Campbell the National Co-ordinator of the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service and a former Chair of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy Healthcare Division who has extensive experience in education, counselling and support work.
The Catholic Church in Scotland, through its Safeguarding Service, continues to develop protocols, policies and guidelines in collaboration with experts, especially those who are expert in psychological and spiritual healing. We are keenly aware, that such policies should provide support and advice and build upon collaboration with other Churches, private groups and public authorities.
The Scottish Bishops heard that the priority principle must be assistance to the victims of abuse. Such assistance must be person to person, and must demonstrate to survivors a willingness to listen and an expression of understanding in the context of carefully prepared personal meetings. Safe environments need to be created for such meetings which empower survivors to find their voice so that they are heard with patience, understanding, respect and belief. In the words of Mgr Oliver, in all such encounters, it is crucial that the Church "listens, listens, listens".
The Bishops were also led in their discussions by Father Hugh Lagan, a priest of the Society of African Missions (SMA) who had worked in a number of African countries before training in Psychotherapy in the United States with a specialism in Sex Crimes. He has worked with the St. Luke Institute in both Washington DC and Manchester and is currently establishing such a centre for the Church in Pretoria, South Africa.
Fr Lagan spoke of his work with survivors of abuse and with perpetrators. Survivors have much to teach us, he said, "about deep and lasting pain, about justified anger, about courage and the capacity to heal, and about the resiliency of the human spirit". He stressed the importance of properly developed and updated programmes, protocols and strategies in Safeguarding.
As a priest psychotherapist Father Lagan told of being challenged by a survivor as to whose side he was on, the Church or the survivor. He answered, "I'm on the side of the right and the good'. This he said, must be the Church's position in reaching out to survivors; survivor-victims' rights must be protected and offenders must be held to account for what they have done.
Tina Campbell helped the Bishops to focus on the issue of risk taking behaviours and the management of those who offend. She stressed the importance of raising awareness so that the Church has a rigorous and professional response to those who cause harm and explored the importance of good healthy boundaries and self care.
In my role as Vice President of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, with specific responsibility for the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service I was moved and informed by the presentations made by such leading experts in their fields. The Catholic Church in Scotland is committed to learning from past mistakes, developing best practice and allowing external scrutiny of our work. This is why we asked Dr. Andrew McLellan a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and past Chief Inspector of Prisons to chair a Commission reviewing Safeguarding Protocols and Procedures.
Our decision to focus on survivors of abuse was in preparation for Dr. McLellan's report which we expect to receive in the first half this year and whose recommendations we have undertaken to accept and publish. The choice of subject was also informed, by Pope Francis' decision to set as a priority, the need to be "spiritually united with those who have suffered and their families". The Pope's call is one which the Church in Scotland takes very seriously and which we are committed to acting on.