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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


A.2: The Roman Catholic Church

5. Catholicism is the second largest Christian denomination[1] with approximately 3.8 million Catholic adults in England and Wales.[2] The Roman Catholic Church is made up of 22 archdioceses and dioceses with 4,119 priests and includes approximately 340 religious institutes (groups with a particular spiritual focus reflected in their work).[3]


6. A diocese is a geographical district under the authority and leadership of a bishop. The 22 dioceses are grouped into provinces and a province is presided over by an archbishop (the title given to bishops who govern an archdiocese).

7. Within each diocese, the bishop’s responsibility is “to teach, to sanctify and to govern”.[4] The bishop has autonomy to make any decision he chooses, providing he abides by canon law.[5] Each bishop has ultimate responsibility for safeguarding within his own diocese. No bishop has authority over any other bishop.

8. An archbishop governs his own diocese and has oversight of – but not jurisdiction over – the dioceses within his province. An archbishop does not have authority over a bishop.

9. Bishops in England and Wales are collectively known as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (the Bishops’ Conference), which meets twice a year. Its role is wide-ranging and includes education and promotion of the Catholic faith and engagement with civic authorities and other Bishops’ Conferences outside England and Wales. There is no line of authority between the Pope and the Bishops’ Conference; if the Pope wishes to issue a directive, he will issue it directly to the bishop rather than through the Bishops’ Conference.

10. Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the current president of the Bishops’ Conference. In 2014, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, was made a cardinal by Pope Francis. Cardinals usually hold the rank of archbishop and together they form the College of Cardinals, whose primary responsibility is to elect a new pope. As Cardinal Nichols explained, he oversees the work of the Bishops’ Conference but he does not have additional authority in his role as president or as cardinal:

My role as President does not make me head of the Church in England and Wales. There is no such position. Individual bishops retain their responsibility and accountability within their dioceses.[6]

Map of England and Wales showing the Roman Catholic Church Dioceses and Archdioceses regions in separate colours

Map of Roman Catholic Church dioceses in England and Wales
Catholic Directory for England and Wales (based on

Religious institutes

11. There are approximately 340 Roman Catholic religious institutes in England and Wales.[7] These are religious societies of men or women with a particular spiritual focus that is reflected in their work in the Church. While there are canonical differences between a religious order and a religious congregation, the terms are often used interchangeably. The term ‘religious institutes’ encompasses both orders and congregations; it is used in canon law as an “all-embracing term covering all religious societies”.[8]

12. All members of a religious institute live under the authority of a religious superior and must abide by canon law. Institutes vary greatly in size and spiritual focus.[9] For example, the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy has over 180 members and focusses on teaching and nursing. By contrast, the Poor Clare Colletines have eight members and are an enclosed contemplative community focussed on prayer and worship.[10]

13. While a religious institute cannot operate within a diocese without the permission of the bishop, each religious institute is governed by its own constitution. The bishop is required by canon law to respect the right of the religious institute to self-govern.

14. More than 240 institutes are members of the Conference of Religious (CoR). The CoR was established to promote the welfare of the religious institutes, encourage collaboration between leaders of institutes and “to speak to civil society … from a Roman Catholic perspective”.[11] It is voluntary to join and as such the CoR has no authority or power over its membership.[12]


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