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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


D.2: The post-Nolan child protection structure

5. As a result of the Nolan report, the Church made a number of structural changes in relation to its handling of child sexual abuse allegations.

Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults

6. The Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA) was established in January 2002 as the national child protection unit envisaged by the Nolan report. COPCA was funded by the Bishops’ Conference and by the CoR. Its director was Mrs Eileen Shearer and its work included:

  • providing advice and support to both Conferences, the dioceses and religious institutes;
  • establishing a duty scheme to provide advice on individual cases;
  • liaising with statutory agencies at national level, and with professional bodies and leading charities;
  • publishing an annual report which included information on the number of allegations received and information about how they were handled;
  • facilitating child protection training; and
  • introducing self-audits in the dioceses and religious institutes.

Diocesan structure

7. One of COPCA’s first recommendations was for the Church to establish a formalised organisational structure. This was approved by the Bishops’ Conference and resulted in the introduction of a number of structural changes.

  • Independent child protection commissions: The commissions’ role included providing a support structure for child protection coordinators (see below), improving relationships between the Church and external agencies, and reviewing risk assessments for the management of child sex offenders in the Church.[1] Members included child protection experts such as the police and probation and social workers.[2]
  • Child protection coordinators (CPC): The role of CPCs was wide-ranging and included:
    • leading and managing the development of child protection practice and implementation of the policies at archdiocesan level;
    • responding to allegations of abuse, including referrals to statutory authorities and providing support and advice to survivors and victims;
    • providing guidance and advice to parish child protection representatives;
    • overseeing the arrangements for covenants of care (now known as safeguarding agreements or safeguarding plans); and
    • dealing with issues concerning vulnerable adults.[3]
  • Parish child protection representatives: Each parish had a parish child protection representative, responsible for ensuring that diocesan policies and procedures were followed in everyday practice.

Structure in religious institutes

8. Mrs Shearer stated that achieving a similar organisational structure for the religious institutes was “highly problematic”.[4] One proposal was for the religious institutes to join the diocesan child protection structure. Mrs Shearer told us that this proposal was “unacceptable” to:

some of the religious, partly because they were fiercely independent, partly because they did not view it as correct that they should come under … the rule of a bishop when they had their own governance structures of various kinds”.[5]

9. In 2005, COPCA suggested that four regional religious commissions be established with membership, roles and responsibilities similar to those of the diocesan child protection commissions. Each regional religious commission was intended to have a safeguarding coordinator but in practice this did not happen “in part due to the lack of resources available” to the institutes and also “a failure to fully understand safeguarding for many of the orders”.[6]

10. Adrian Child, who was appointed as assistant director of COPCA in 2006, told us that the regional religious commissions “didn’t really have the professional expertise that was required” nor did they have a safeguarding coordinator.[7]

11. As discussed in Part E, the religious institutes ultimately aligned with diocesan safeguarding commissions or established their own safeguarding commissions.

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