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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


K.2: Leadership in the Church in England and Wales

3. In his 2019 Motu Proprio setting out the Church’s procedures for reporting child sexual abuse, Pope Francis stated that the responsibility for the Church’s response “falls above all” on the bishops and those “chosen by God to be pastoral leaders of his People”.[1]

4. In the smaller religious institutes, the authority of an abbot means the leadership of the particular abbot is especially important. If the abbot is ineffective, as admitted by Abbot Martin Shipperlee in relation to Ealing Abbey, that is a significant impediment to effective action. Likewise during his tenure as Abbot President, Richard Yeo showed too little commitment to addressing safeguarding in the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC). As Dom Christopher Jamison, Abbot President of the EBC, subsequently accepted:

there was catastrophic moral failure on the part of individual monks, followed by a chronic weakness of leadership to address that … I think individual abbots and the Abbot President have not, in the past, exercised sufficient authority and leadership”.[2]

5. Throughout the investigation, the evidence demonstrated failings in the Church’s response and in particular we were concerned by the role of those vested with leadership in relation to:

  • the laboriously slow pace of change;
  • a lack of empathy and understanding towards many victims and survivors; and
  • uncertainty as to whether a culture of safeguarding is fully embedded across the entire Church.

Pace of change

6. When the Church does act, the speed with which change is effected is laboriously slow.

6.1. The 2007 Cumberlege review recommended that the Bishops’ Conference, in conjunction with the CoR, should seek a general decree within 12 months (Recommendation 72). Twelve years elapsed before the draft decree was submitted to the Holy See for its approval.

6.2. The Cumberlege review also recommended that – within 12 months – the Bishops’ Conference and CoR should publish a Code of Conduct (Recommendation 2). The CoR’s Code of Conduct was published eight years later. Thirteen years later, in spring 2020, the Bishops’ Conference Code of Conduct was approved.

6.3. The Safe Spaces joint project with the Anglican Church was proposed in 2015 and was “anticipated” to be launched by May 2019.[3] It did not commence until late September 2020.

6.4. In November 2018, CSAS asked CIS to draft a new set of guidelines for the handling of abuse claims. One year on the matter was still being consulted upon. The revised guidelines were published on 7 October 2020.

6.5. At the conclusion of the Archdiocese of Birmingham hearing (on 13 December 2018) we were told that the Bishops’ Conference had initiated an independent review of safeguarding structures and arrangements. We were told that “the aim” was for it to be completed by autumn 2019.[4] It is now due for completion in October 2020.

7. The inordinate delays in respect of the implementation of Recommendations 2 and 72 suggest a comprehensive failure by both the Bishops’ Conference and CoR to get on and execute the work required of them. The delays also suggest failings by the NCSC to take steps to ensure that these recommendations were put into effect. In their respective ways, they have failed to lead. As Sister Jane Bertelsen said, the “safeguarding story” in England and Wales (and beyond) has been “far too slow” and that delay could not be defended.[5]

Failures of leadership: victims and survivors

8. When examining the ways in which many within the Church engage with victims and survivors (at all levels, including clergy and safeguarding staff), we heard evidence of some cases where the response did, and still does, lack compassion and empathy. This reflects directly upon the leadership given by some senior figures in the Church:

8.1. Danny Sullivan (chair of the NCSC between 2012 and 2015) said he thought the Church lacked “a profound understanding of the experience of victims and survivors”.[6] He said that “At times one felt that the priority was still the reputation of the church”.[7] He gave two examples:

  • He told us that, while he was chair of the NCSC, he was asked by the Bishops’ Conference media office to make a statement in response to a news story about a possible public inquiry into abuse. Having sent his draft to the media office, he received an email in response which:

    removed my last sentence, where I said, ‘The Catholic Church unreservedly apologises to all victims and survivors of abuse’”.[8]

    When he asked why this sentence had been removed, Mr Sullivan was told “‘The church has already apologised for abuse’”.[9] He told the media office to reinstate the sentence or he would not allow the statement to be released. It was reinstated but Mr Sullivan said that this incident:

    reinforced my feeling that the media office were accountable to the Bishops’ Conference. If I was going to make a public statement critical of a bishop or a religious leader, I could be putting them in a difficult position”.[10]

  • At the public hearing in October 2019, he said:

    Three weeks ago, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is a senior cardinal in Rome often named as a future Pope, stated publicly that it was time for the church to move on from the abuse issue”.[11]

8.2. Baroness Sheila Hollins (one of the founding members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors) explained that from her perspective, “people understand the need for procedures and policies, but – at a cognitive level, there is a sort of cognitive empathy, but not an emotional empathy”.[12] She believed this applied to some leaders within the Church in England and Wales and hoped that the bishops’ training in Valladolid had helped the bishops develop “a different capacity for emotional empathy with victims and survivors.[13]

8.3. Mrs Edina Carmi’s review of recent safeguarding files identified an imbalance in the support provided to alleged perpetrators when compared with the support provided to victims, survivors and complainants. There was:

a sense of hostility and irritation in some responses to alleged victims with inadequate compassion and understanding of their current problems and the link of these with past abuse”.[14]

8.4. These conclusions accord with comments made by Stephen Spear (a lay member of the NCSC from June 2016 to July 2019) that, in the context of safeguarding:

I have struggled to understand why the Catholic Church is out of step with society as a whole, and still do … Most of – society understands, I think … that it should be victim- and survivor-centred, at the centre of things, but it feels to me that it’s not – there’s not that same balance within the Catholic Church”.[15]

9. In the cases of RC-A710 and RC-A711, Cardinal Nichols demonstrated a lack of understanding of the impact of their abuse and experiences and seemingly put the reputation of the Church first. As a senior leader and the figurehead for the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Catholics look to Cardinal Nichols to lead by example. It is difficult to exercise good leadership if you engage in bad practice. Cardinal Nichols’ acknowledgement that “there is much more we have to achieve” applies as much to him and other senior leaders as it does to the rest of the Catholic Church.[16]

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