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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


E.2: Implementing the Cumberlege review recommendations

14. During the fourth public hearing, the Inquiry examined the progress, or otherwise, of implementation of Cumberlege recommendations 2 and 72.

Recommendation 2: Codes of conduct

15. Recommendation 2 of the Cumberlege review stated that the Bishops’ Conference and the CoR “should develop Codes of Conduct for all clergy, non clergy religious and those who work in the service of the Church, including volunteers”.[1] The proposed timeline for implementation of the Code was “within 12 months”.[2]

15.1. Code of conduct for religious: The CoR’s code of conduct – Integrity in Ministry, A Document of Principles and Standards for Religious in England and Wales – was produced in October 2015, eight years after the Cumberlege review.[3]

15.2. Code of conduct for bishops and clergy: In preparation for the final public hearing, the NCSC and Bishops’ Conference produced a chronology of work undertaken by them to prepare a code of conduct.[4] This chronology shows that from 2007 to 2016 the code was discussed and draft papers for consultation were circulated but no actual code was produced. At the final hearing, Cardinal Vincent Nichols told us that Bishop Marcus Stock, the Conference’s lead member for safeguarding matters, was now responsible for producing the Code and he would “be surprised” if the proposed Code was not available by the Bishops Conference meeting in April 2020.[5] The Code was subsequently approved at the April meeting and circulated to the bishops in July 2020.

16. Cardinal Nichols accepted that “On this matter, we have made very slow progress”.[6] That was certainly true given it took 13 years to reach this point.

Recommendation 72: Adherence to safeguarding policies and procedures

17. The Cumberlege review recognised that its recommendations (like that of the Nolan report) would not, “according to the rules of Canon Law, be binding on individual Bishops or Congregational Leaders”.[7] Therefore, where a bishop or religious leader refuses to follow or comply with those rules, “there are not the resources or mechanisms sufficiently effective to hold people to account”.[8]

18. It sought to address this with recommendation 72. This recommended that the Bishops’ Conference and CoR draft a ‘general decree’ (ie a law covering the Church in England and Wales) making adherence to “the Church’s most important safeguarding rules for children and vulnerable adults” obligatory, under canon law, throughout England and Wales.[9]

19. A general decree only comes into force once it receives ‘recognitio’ (or recognition) from the Holy See. Recognitio involves scrutiny by the Holy See to ensure that the general decree complies with the other laws of the Church. The Cumberlege report was “much encouraged” that a COPCA working party had already begun to formulate a general decree and recommended that recognitio should be sought within 12 months.[10]

20. Minutes of NCSC meetings record that recognitio was discussed in meetings from 2010 onwards.[11] It was not until June 2019, however, that the final draft text of the general decree was approved by the Bishops’ Conference and delivered to the Holy See.[12]

21. When asked about this delay, Cardinal Nichols acknowledged that “It could have been quicker” but explained that “part of the narrative” was as a result of the experience of the Bishops’ Conference in the US which had sought a decree for the US but “then got into difficulties because they wanted to change it, and so they had to go through the whole process of submitting new proposals”.[13] He said it was “partly in light of this that the Bishops’ Conference decided to wait:

until it was clearer that our procedures and policies were mature enough. In the process of that, we did take advice from one of the officials in the Holy See, and he said there are advantages in waiting until this process matures”.[14]

22. Cardinal Nichols said that the text of the general decree “is specifically designed and includes our right to revise the details of what we do, now we await for the judgment of the Holy See on that as to whether it fits the universal law of the church”.[15]

23. As at mid October 2020, recognitio has still not been granted.

24. The 2007 Cumberlege review made clear that a general decree was needed to give the safeguarding procedures the appropriate legal status. The Bishops’ Conference took 12 years to submit the general decree to the Holy See, shortly before the Inquiry’s hearings. It should have been done sooner.

25. Monsignor Gordon Read, an expert in canon law, was asked what would be the practical consequences of a breach of the general decree. He said this would:

be a matter for the Nuncio to report to the Holy See for action to be taken … I suspect, initially, the Holy See would try to persuade the bishop that he ought to do what he’s required to do … [the] ultimate sanction is open to the Holy See to either effectively strip the bishop of his powers and put someone else in with them, leaving him in office or simply to remove him from office altogether”.[16]

26. Pope Francis’s 2019 Motu Proprio sets out the procedure to be adopted where a bishop or a religious leader mishandles allegations of child sexual abuse. In the event that recognition is granted, it remains to be seen whether the procedure laid down in the Motu Proprio will be invoked and the bishop or religious leader held to account.

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