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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Investigation Report


B.3: The scale of child sexual abuse

12. In order to examine the prevalence and scale of child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Inquiry considered a number of sources of information.

The Inquiry’s rapid evidence assessment

13. In 2016, the Inquiry commissioned a rapid evidence assessment (REA) – Child sexual abuse within the Catholic and Anglican Churches – to understand existing data and research on the scale of abuse within both churches.[1]

14. The REA reported that there was “no robust study” for prevalence of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in England and Wales.[2] An American study in 2004 stated that around 4 percent of Catholic priests in the US have been the subject of allegations of child sexual abuse. In Australia, a 2017 survey for the Australian Royal Commission analysed data for claims made between 1990 and 2014 against Catholic Church personnel which found that “7 per cent of priests were alleged perpetrators”.[3]

15. The studies considered by the REA suggested that both under-reporting and delays in reporting made it difficult to ascertain the number of victims of child sexual abuse. The REA considered that boys are more likely to have been abused than girls, “with studies all reporting similar proportions of male victims at around 7080 percent”.[4] Studies suggested that abuse of boys is more prevalent because there is “greater access” in the Church to boys, for example as altar servers, and because “of the higher proportion of boys in residential institutions”.[5]

The Bullivant review (2018)

16. The Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC), asked Professor Stephen Bullivant to gather data about the number of allegations of child sexual abuse (the Bullivant review). The analysis related to complaints (ie allegations or concerns of childhood sexual abuse) against clergy, members of religious institutes and lay workers (paid and voluntary).

17. The report – Allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015: A Statistical Summary (finalised in January 2018) – was based on anonymised data provided by each diocese and 328 religious institutes in England and Wales, populating a template from individual case records.[6] Allegations relating to Catholic schools run by religious institutes were included, but the data did not include allegations related to state-run Catholic schools. Care was taken to avoid duplication; for example, if a diocese managed a case for a religious institute, the diocese included the case in its return. The review emphasised that, when analysing the complaints:

A single complaint may be made by one or more people, may include one or more instances of alleged abuse and may specify one or more alleged perpetrators as the subjects of the complaint”.[7]

18. The Bullivant review identified 931 complaints of child sexual abuse made to the Catholic Church in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015.[8] This equates to an average of 20 complaints each year for 45 years. Of those 931 complaints, 344 complaints were made to religious institutes and 587 complaints were made to dioceses. When comparing the number of diocesan and religious complaints, Professor Bullivant observed, the religious institutes account “for around half of all complaints in the 1960s and 1970s, but this noticeably decreases in the years following”.[9] He suggested that this might be due to religious institutes making up a higher proportion of total priests in the 1960s and 1970s and due to the involvement of many religious institutes in running schools and children’s homes.[10]

19. The complaints involved 3,072 instances of alleged abuse made by 1,753 individuals in respect of 936 alleged perpetrators.

Number of complaints and subjects of complaints made to the Catholic Church in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015.
Long Description
Number of complaints and subjects of complaints made to the Catholic Church in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015.
Complaints Received Individuals coming forward Instances of alleged abuse Subjects of complaints
Religious orders 344 817 1023 390
Diocese 587 936 2049 546
Combined total 931 1753 3072 936

Number of complaints and subjects 1970–2015
Source: Based on CHC001938_009

20. Where the complaint included a start date for the alleged abuse, the analysis found that a large proportion of the abuse was alleged to have started in the 1960s and 1970s.[11]

Number of complaints of child sexual abuse made to the Catholic Church with abuse alleged to occur or commence in a given half decade from 1935 - 2015. The graph shows an incline that peaks between 1970 and 1975 and then trends downwards to 2015

Dates of the start of the alleged abuse
Source: Based on CHC001938_016[12]

21. The analysis also showed that there was an increase in reporting of complaints from the mid-1990s onwards, with a particularly high number of complaints in 2010.

Number of complaints (by year) of child sexual abuse made to the Catholic Church in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015, split between Dioceses and Religious Orders.

Year in which complaints were received 1970–2015
Source: Based on CHC001938_013

22. On the basis of the data provided, the Bullivant report identifies the shocking scale of child sexual abuse allegations against individuals within or connected to the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. It is likely that the true number of complaints is considerably higher than the figures set out here.

NCSC annual reports

23. Since 2008, the NCSC has published safeguarding data in its annual report.[13] This includes the number of reports made to the Church relating to allegations of sexual abuse and allegations relating to the possession of child abuse images. Over the years, the way in which this information is recorded has changed.

23.1. The annual reports from 2008 to 2013 published the number of overall sexual abuse allegations (not limited to child sexual abuse allegations) and included additional detail about the role the alleged abuser had within the Church.[14]

23.2. The 2013–14 annual report included figures based on a 10-year review of data collected. This referred to child protection allegations and so did not record the information in the same way as the previous annual reports.

23.3. Since 2015, the annual report has made reference to the number of ‘child protection allegations’ and subdivided this category to indicate the number of those allegations that related to sexual abuse.

Table 1: Allegations of abuse as recorded by the NCSC in its annual report up to 2018[15]

NCSC annual report Sexual abuse allegations Child abuse image allegations
2008–2009a 38 2
2009–2010b 31 2
2010–2011c 71 4
2011–2012d 32 1
2012–2013e 48 5
2013–2014f N/A N/A
2015g 60 child protection allegations related to sexual abuse 11
2015–2016h 61 child protection allegations related to sexual abuse 7
2016–2017i 102 child protection allegations related to sexual abuse 10
2018j 104 sexual abuse allegations and concerns relating to children 6

24. The annual reports do not consistently identify the years in which the abuse is alleged to have occurred. For example, the 2016–17 report includes information about the date when the abuse was first said to have occurred.[16] This information was not included in the 2018 annual report.

25. It is unclear whether the increase in the number of complaints is indicative of an increase in offending or an increase in the reporting of such matters or both. However, with more than 100 allegations each year since 2016, there is a continuing need for the Church to have procedures in place to ensure that allegations are properly investigated, victims and complainants supported, and children protected.


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