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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report

D.2: Examination of past cases review

4. The Examination of past cases for the Archdiocese of Birmingham (the past cases review) was undertaken by Jan Pickles OBE, a qualified social worker with extensive experience in safeguarding. Its aim was to help the Archdiocese prepare for this Inquiry and also to “Learn lessons from the past to help safeguarding and to help victims and survivors today and in the future”.[1] In preparing her report, Mrs Pickles reviewed case files involving 15 perpetrators and 45 victims of child sexual abuse.

5. Mrs Pickles identified a number of broad themes, including:

  1. 5.1 the ways in which the perpetrator was able to groom the victim by gaining access to the victim and their family, the level of trust and deference shown by the victim and family to the priest;
  2. 5.2 the power and status of the priest created both the opportunity to abuse and often made the victim feel that it was impossible to disclose the abuse for fear of being disbelieved;
  3. 5.3 the lifelong impact that abuse had on victims pervading all aspects of their lives. In particular, victims and the families of victims felt the Church should have done more to protect them and were concerned about the length of time it took to dismiss a priest from the clerical state;[2]
  4. 5.4 the perception of a culture of secrecy which is founded in the way the Archdiocese historically has dealt with cases, showing a reluctance to involve police and local authorities and a preference to manage matters internally;[3] and
  5. 5.5 there was a reluctance or inability by peers to challenge or question colleagues about behaviours that may have looked suspicious[4] and a use of euphemistic language, such as ‘misbehaviour’ and ‘misdemeanour’ to describe criminal acts of child sexual abuse.[5]

6. The review concluded that staff working within the safeguarding team were not regularly supervised. This led to a lack of consistency of approach within the case files and a need for more accountability and oversight.[6] The case management system was not “fit for purpose” with paper‑based, handwritten files which were difficult to read and made it hard to follow events and difficult to share information with others.[7] These final two conclusions were matters that also featured in the SCIE audit.

7. Jane Jones, the safeguarding coordinator, told us that she accepted the general conclusions of the report but was concerned about the factual inaccuracies in the review. She said that, although case management systems were now different from those used in the historic cases, there would still be handwritten notes as she would take contemporaneous handwritten notes and she considered this to be best practice.

8. Archbishop Bernard Longley said he was grateful for the way Mrs Pickles had identified a number of themes common throughout the cases she had reviewed. He agreed it was:

very likely that some decisions were made as a result of fear that negative publicity about a priest’s behaviour would undermine the church’s mission. The church must never put its reputation above properly dealing with an allegation. This should be a valuable lesson from the past”.[8]

9. The past cases review is a valuable resource for the Archdiocese as it explains how abusers target and groom their victims, highlights patterns of abuse common within the clerical setting and, importantly, broadens the Archdiocese’s understanding of the widespread impact that abuse can have on the victims and their families.

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