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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.3: Embedding a culture of safeguarding and the ‘One Church’ approach

10. Both the Nolan report and the Cumberlege review sought to establish and embed the ‘One Church’ approach – a Church-wide commitment to one set of policies and procedures based on the paramountcy principle. As Cardinal Nichols said, the ‘One Church’ approach describes the need for a consistent approach to safeguarding across the Church. He accepted that post-Cumberlege, the Church “started from a position where consistency was some way off”.[1]

11. The institutional response to child protection is not only about the mechanics of implementing and adhering to policies and procedures but rather, as the Cumberlege report noted:

A culture of vigilance … depends fundamentally on engaging ‘hearts and minds’ from the leadership down through to the grass roots, clergy and laity alike.[2]

12. The evidence we heard included criticism of the Church leadership and suggested that parts of the Church had not yet successfully engaged ‘hearts and minds’.

12.1. Adrian Child said that, during his tenure as director of CSAS (from 2007 to 2015), there was ineffective moral leadership within the church”, which led to the delivery and support of safeguarding services being more difficult.[3] He referred to:

a mismatch between rhetoric and practice on the ground. It would sometimes be the case that the Papacy and/or Catholic Bishops conferences would make good sound public statements in relation to safeguarding but those statements were simply not reflective of implementation of safeguarding on the ground”.[4]

12.2. Mr Sullivan told us that, when he attended his first Bishops’ Conference, he told the Conference:

“‘If you are looking for me, as chair of the NCSC, to resolve the issue of safeguarding, then you’ll be very disappointed, because it’s not an issue; it’s something that’s always going to be with us’, and I think my view is that some people … some bishops saw it, and religious leaders saw it, as an issue … An irritating issue that wouldn’t go away.[5]

12.3. Dr Colette Limbrick referred to the guiding principles set out in the 2012 document ‘Towards a Culture of Safeguarding’ (TACOS) which recommended that work should be done at national and local level to “identify ways to raise the profile of safeguarding as a positive occurrence”.[6] Dr Limbrick said that this recommendation was:

work in progress. That’s not a recommendation that you can sign off and say, ‘We have done that’. It has to be relentless … I think there’s evidence of it being embedded. I think we have to continue … It is something that just has to keep going”.[7]

12.4. Cardinal Nichols made a similar point:

I think we should do more in the general life of our parishes to set the task of safeguarding in a much more positive context … ”.[8]

I would affirm absolutely that the culture within the Catholic Church today is radically different than it was in 2001, or even in 2007. But I do think there’s much, much more we have to achieve.[9]

13. When the NCSC was established in 2008, it was tasked with setting the strategic direction of the Church’s safeguarding policy. Mr Spear was critical of this aspect of the NCSC’s work. He said:

it’s not strategic in the sense I understand ‘strategy’, in that there is no coherent framework for making decisions … there is no sense about what they are trying to achieve”.[10]

14. The NCSC’s ‘3 Year Strategic Business Plan 2018/2021’ (produced in March 2018) sets out its “strategic objectives”, which include developing “a culture of sensitivity throughout the Church based on listening and responding to both adult and child victims and survivors” and promoting the ‘One Church’ approach.[11]

15. The current NCSC chair, Christopher Pearson, said that safeguarding needs to be “an automatic response” that is “embedded within thought”, rather than the Church or individuals “constantly having to look at procedures”.[12] He added:

The church, in terms of dealing with safeguarding, is relatively new … and so there are elements, I think, that still need to be embedded … there needs to be more of a better understanding of what ‘One Church’ approach means … ”.[13]

16. The Catholic Church is not “relatively new” to safeguarding – nearly two decades have elapsed since Lord Nolan’s report and the NCSC itself is now 12 years old. However, as Mr Pearson acknowledged, embedding the ‘One Church’ approach remains work in progress. It remains unclear whether the NCSC has the capacity required to ensure this aim is met.

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