Abuse apology by Scottish Catholic bishop gets some plaudits

(Photo: REUTERS / David Moir)Archbishop Philip Tartaglia (L) walks with another priest during his first service as administrator of the Archdiocese of Edinburgh and St Andrews at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland February 28, 2013. The Archbishop is temporarily replacing Cardinal Keith O'Brien who resigned under duress on Monday, prompting Pope Benedict to take the rare step of changing Vatican law to allow his successor to be elected early, adding to a sense of crisis within the Roman Catholic Church.

A senior Scottish Catholic bishop has issued a strong apology to victims of child abuse that received praise from prominent members of the community, but was rejected by former church social worker after a step that was described some as landmark announcement.

The Catholic Church announced for the first Sunday that it will publish audits compiled by its National Office of Child Safety of all allegations made against priests, staff or volunteers and how these were resolved.

Later in 2013, the church will release audits dating back to 2006, when co-ordinated procedures were first implemented in Scotland and it will continue this process each year.

The Catholic Church also announced it is also preparing a more detailed report for publication in 2014 that will refer to all historical cases stretching across all Scottish dioceses.

Experts and a child abuse victim also praised Sunday's announcement by Rev. Hugh Gilbert, the Bishop of Aberdeen, that the allegations surrounding Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highlands had shamed the church.

They said the bishop's comments marked a new direction for the church, which has previously faced accusations of dismissing such claims, the Herald newspaper reported Monday.

During mass at a church near the school, which shut in the 1990s, Bishop Gilbert said: "It is a most bitter, shaming and distressing thing that in this former Abbey School a small number of baptized, consecrated and ordained Christian men physically or sexually abused those in their care.

"We are anxious that there be a thorough police investigation into all this and that all that can be done should be done for the victims. All of us must surely pray for those who have suffered."

The school concerned closed in the 1990s.

Five men came forward last week to say they were raped or sexually abused by Father Aidan Duggan, an Australian Benedictine monk who taught at Fort Augustus and Carlekemp, a feeder school in the Scotland's East Lothian area, between 1953 and 1974.

Duggan died in 2004 but some of the allegations relate to men who are still alive, and Police in Scotland have launched an investigation.


Professor Tom Devine, a leading historian based at Edinburgh University, said: "I think, more important than the entirely correct apology from Bishop Gilbert, is the news the there will be full disclosure and audit of historic cases of abuse.

"The church has finally realised that complete transparency and honesty is the only way forward to combat suspicion, rumour and exaggerated reporting."

Alan Draper, who headed a church body of child protection and drew up a report on "problem priests" in the 1990s, however, dismissed the Catholic Church's plans to publish annual audits of sexual abuse allegations against priests as "window dressing," The Scotsman newspaper reported.

Draper said that secret church archives in Scotland could contain allegations of sexual abuse by as many as 100 priests and other staff in cases stretching back 50 years.

A retired social work director, Draper said an independent commission should be allowed access to the archives of each of the eight dioceses in Scotland.

Draper was chairman of the Catholic Church's working party on child protection, and he said he had identified 22 "problem priests" by analyzing a 10-year period between 1985 and 1995.

He said that he believes records covering the 50 years could identity as many as 100 priests and individuals associated with the church who were accused of sexual abuse.

"This organization [the Catholic Church] now lacks all credibility. This is a step, but it is a very small step, and it is not appropriate for the church to lead this process.

"We need an independent audit going back at least 50 years whereby the dioceses open their records for proper scrutiny and it should be a minimum of three people with participation of victims in the process," said Draper who is the retired deputy director of Stockport social work department.

Catholic Church commentator, John Haldane, a professor of philosophy at St. Andrews University said: "I very much welcome the fact, the substance and the spirit of it. It is part of the Christian understanding of human beings that as well as having a capacity for recognising and pursuing the good we are also liable to self-indulgence and to harming others.

"Bishop Hugh has begun the work of acknowledging the gravity of the wrongs done, and bringing some peace to those who have suffered," The Herald reported.

The newspaper said the leader of Britain's biggest group of Benedictine congregations, Richard Yeo, has already signalled full co-operation with the police inquiry, but the order, like the church, had no direct authority over the schools.

The Aberdeen bishop's Sunday comments were seen in contrast to those made by then Bishop Mario Conti in 1998 who was to become Archbishop of Glasgow before retiring in 2012.

Conti said then that claims of mass physical abuse by nuns at Nazareth House in Aberdeen were "fantastical". A woman was later convicted.

Helen Holland, a former nun and survivor of childhood abuse said: "The bishop saying he is sorry so quickly and backing a police investigation is a real step in the right direction and really refreshing. Attitudes are obviously changing."

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