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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.3: ‘One Church’ post-Nolan

12. The Nolan report’s core recommendation was what became known as the ‘One Church’ approach – a single set of principles, policies and practices applicable across the Church based on the paramountcy principle and other government guidance.

13. In order to achieve this, the Nolan report said there was to be “effective and speedy implementation in parishes, dioceses and religious orders” and “the provision of adequate resources to support these arrangements”.[1] As the report acknowledges:

Diversity of policy and practice, insufficiency of resources and a lack of national support and co-ordination will, in our view, lead to a weakened, inconsistent and inadequate response”.[2]

14. Mrs Shearer noted that the Cumberlege report identified “several crucial barriers to the effective implementation of the Nolan Report”.[3] She said that in her experience bishops and leaders of religious institutes:

did not take full responsibility for using their legitimate authority to lead the changes that were needed too often paying lip service … viewing it as a regrettable and temporary necessity to deal with the unwelcome and damaging publicity at the time”.[4]

15. She said that other barriers included:

  • the diversity of the religious institutes, although, in her view, female religious institutes were “by and large more engaged with and supportive of the need for COPCA’s work” than the male religious institutes;[5]
  • the Church’s unfamiliarity with working with internal and external partners;
  • the use of people in key roles (some with little or no experience of child protection work); and

    A (misguided) perception that the paramountcy principle and Canon Law were diametrically opposed.[6]

16. Evidence we heard during the case studies suggests that concerns about the implementation of the ‘One Church’ approach were not unfounded.

16.1. At Ampleforth Abbey, Abbot Timothy Wright (1997–2005) had “an immovable attitude to allegations of child sexual abuse” which hampered the proper and effective implementation of the Nolan recommendations. There were examples of Ampleforth refusing to cooperate with the statutory agencies and the Church itself.[7]

16.2. In 2003, Downside informally aligned itself with the Diocese of Clifton’s safeguarding structure. Abbot Richard Yeo of Downside Abbey (1998–2006) considered that Downside engaged well with the diocese. However, the diocesan safeguarding coordinator thought that Abbot Yeo struggled with the paramountcy principle and was more focussed on protecting the clergy than victims.[8]

16.3. In 2004 to 2007 there was a lengthy dispute between COPCA and the Archdiocese of Birmingham’s safeguarding commission about whether COPCA should be provided with the name of an alleged perpetrator when COPCA’s advice was sought. Mrs Shearer considered that there was a desire to keep COPCA at a distance.[9] Cardinal Vincent Nichols (then Archbishop of Birmingham) did not accept this but he should have intervened to ensure both resolution of the dispute and compliance with COPCA’s protocol.[10]

17. In October 2003, Archbishop Vincent Nichols wrote that Lord Nolan’s recommendations were:

accepted and the work of implementation began immediately. That work represents a sea-change in many of the habits and procedures that underlie the life of the Church in every parish, youth group, voluntary association and care institution. The scope of the change, then, is very widespread indeed.[11]

18. As the Cumberlege review noted, there was however “some resistance to change among certain bishops and religious leaders and “a resistance among some Chairs/Commissions to the idea that they should be ‘answerable’ to some other body”.[12] More recently, Cardinal Nichols told the Inquiry that the ‘One Church’ policy was “difficult to implement for a number of reasons”.[13] These included:

  • the number of religious institutes and the diversity of their purposes;
  • the relevance of child protection to some institutes which were small and consisted of elderly members;
  • the capacity of smaller institutes to resource the changes; and
  • the historical and canonical independence of the institutes from oversight by a bishop.

19. In his view, it took time to change the attitudes and culture within the Church post-Nolan; the “changes … were a little like climbing a hill”.[14] He “found the procedures to be impersonal and somewhat inflexible” but he said that access to expert advice and the introduction of procedural requirements benefited the Church and him personally when child protection decisions needed to be made.[15] As he put it:

Judgment based on personal contact and relationship … is not always the best basis for decisions about what is to be done.[16]

20. Cardinal Nichols believed that a “lot of good was achieved” between the Nolan and Cumberlege reports.

Without doubt … COPCA … changed the culture of safeguarding in the dioceses of England and Wales.[17]

21. The Inquiry heard evidence of how the Nolan report brought about positive changes in the dioceses and religious institutes.

21.1. In 2004, the Archdiocese of Birmingham sought COPCA’s advice about RC-F167. Although he had been the subject of two investigations – one for alleged child sexual abuse offences, the other in respect of making inappropriate comments to children during confession – RC-F167 was working as a teacher. The Archdiocese followed COPCA’s advice and informed the police about the previous investigations. Shortly afterwards, RC-F167 resigned as a teacher.

21.2. In 2006, Ampleforth suspended RC-F95 after he attempted to access websites restricted by its firewall.[18] It was reported to the police, who concluded that RC-F95 had “attempted to access adult homosexual sites, but not those involving children and the investigation was closed.[19] A number of the accessed sites contained the word ‘boy’ in the title and showed “young adolescent males”.[20] A risk assessment found that RC-F95 posed a significant risk to students in the school and his employment at the school was terminated.[21] North Yorkshire social services were informed and acknowledged that the risk assessment “underlines the commitment to good child protection procedures and practice that has been established at Ampleforth over recent years, and the willingness to take questions outside the community.[22]

22. The Nolan report was a significant milestone in the Church’s child protection arrangements and the recommendations brought about a number of improvements to the Church’s response to child sexual abuse allegations. There was however some resistance to the involvement of COPCA and active resistance to the involvement of the statutory authorities. Some parts of the Church did not fully embrace the key message that child protection and the welfare of the child was paramount, and some actively resisted this.

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