Skip to main content

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


C.4: The Holy See and leadership

31. In recent years, Pope Francis has issued a number of statements on the subject of the Church’s response to child sexual abuse.

31.1. When he established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014, Pope Francis said:

Many painful actions have caused a profound examination of conscience for the entire Church, leading us to request forgiveness from the victims and from our society for the harm that has been caused. This response to these actions is the firm beginning for initiatives of many different types, which are intended to repair the damage … [1]

31.2. In December 2018, he wrote that the Church “will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes”.[2]

31.3. In his May 2019 Motu Proprio, Pope Francis said “concrete and effective actions were required.[3]

Inquiry requests to the Apostolic Nuncio and the Holy See

32. In autumn 2018, the Inquiry requested a statement from the Holy See’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Edward Adams. The request was for information relevant to the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC) case study hearing in respect of Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School (in February 2019) and in particular, about the Apostolic Nuncio’s involvement in handling child sexual abuse allegations and the Apostolic Visitation of 2011/12.

33. The Apostolic Nuncio has diplomatic status and so cannot be compelled to provide a statement or to give evidence. This was therefore a voluntary request for the Apostolic Nuncio to provide information. The Apostolic Nuncio indicated that he needed to consult with the Holy See before replying. The Inquiry also sent the request of the Nuncio to the Holy See and liaised with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to ensure that the request was made through established diplomatic channels.

34. Despite efforts by the Inquiry, no information was provided by the Apostolic Nuncio or the Holy See prior to the Inquiry’s public hearing in relation to Ealing Abbey in February 2019.

35. In preparation for the wider hearing in October and November 2019, the Inquiry asked the Holy See for information about a number of other matters and repeated the requests made of the Nuncio. The Inquiry continued to press the Holy See, via the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, for confirmation as to whether it intended to respond to any or all of the Inquiry’s requests. In due course, the Holy See confirmed that it would not be providing a witness statement. It did provide a response which included information about the 2011 Apostolic Visitation of Ealing Abbey and the disappearance and subsequent dismissal of Laurence Soper from the priesthood.

36. In August 2019, the Holy See provided a document entitled Notes on the measures adopted by the Holy See and by national Conferences of Catholic Bishops to prevent and contrast child abuse (the Notes).[4] The opening sentence of the Notes states:

The Holy See condemns the sexual abuse and ill-treatment of minors and vulnerable persons in the strongest possible terms. As Pope Francis has observed, ‘the crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful’.[5]

37. The Notes appended a number of publicly available documents (for example, the 2001 and 2019 Motu Proprios). The Notes also explained that the Holy See did not exercise jurisdiction over individuals and institutions outside the Vatican, as bishops have autonomy within their own diocese.[6] The document concluded:

The Holy See is committed to continue to assist local dioceses and national Episcopal Conferences in preventing and countering the scourge of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. At the same time, the measures already adopted both by the Holy See and at the local level have contributed greatly towards creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable persons.[7]

38. The Holy See provided limited information in respect of the Ealing Abbey case study. In respect of the final public hearing, it did little more than confirm the bishops’ authority within their own dioceses and provide documents already within the public domain. As recently as May 2019, the Pope made his position on child sexual abuse clear – there needed to be action not just words. This pronouncement stands in direct contrast to the limited information the Holy See provided to the Inquiry. In responding in this way, the Holy See’s stance was contrary to the spirit of its public statements and it missed the opportunity to demonstrate its engagement and leadership on the issue of child sexual abuse.

Back to top