The final Report of the Independent Review on Child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, prepared by Lord Nolan, and entitled A Programme for Action was published by the Bishops’ Conference in 2001. This led to the establishment of COPCA, the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, as an independent body reporting to and funded partly by the Bishops’ Conference, and partly by the Conference of Religious. There is an independent management board chaired by Archbishop Vincent Nichols. In accordance with Lord Nolan’s recommendation 83 this arrangement was to be reviewed after five years. Lady Cumberlege undertook this task at the request of the Bishops’ Conference during the second half of 2006 and presented her report to the Bishops’ Conference in the middle of 2007. At the time of writing we await the response of the Bishops’ Conference to her review.
After the publication of the Nolan Report, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales suggested it would be helpful for a working party to be established to reflect on the interplay of these recommendations and the provisions of Canon Law. At that stage there was no further input from the Bishops’ Conference, and so the CLSGBI set up a working party to consider how best the recommendations might be implemented in accordance with the provisions of Canon Law. Thus far the Bishops’ Conference has not sought to enact particular legislation along the lines of that of the USCCB (the American Bishops’ Conference) so that the recommendations of Nolan have no legislative status, but do represent the policy of the Bishops. The working party met a number of times, and in 2004 produced ‘Responding to allegations of Clerical Child Abuse’, recommendations for harmonising the Nolan Report and the Code of Canon Law. This document was circulated to the members of the Society, and also to the Bishops of England and Wales, and copies presented to the appropriate Dicasteries in Rome for information. It takes the form of three chapters commenting on the preliminary investigation, the judicial penal process, and administrative measures, with appendices containing various relevant documents.
Following the appearance of this document, Bishop Kevin Dunn of Hexham and Newcastle took the initiative in beginning a conversation to discuss how this question might be taken forward. He chaired a meeting at Bishop’s House, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 11-12th May 2005. Mrs Eileen Shearer represented COPCA, Mgrs David Hogan, Gordon Read and Fr Kristian Paver represented the CLSGBI. The latter two had been part of the working party that produced the document ‘Responding to allegations of Clerical Child Abuse’. We started by considering the various options: continuing the present path of refining policies and procedures as defined in COPCA’s brief; each Bishop promulgating a decree making the policy and guidelines particular law in his diocese; particular law for England and Wales enacted by the Bishops’ Conference, either by general decree or plenary council, along the lines of the Essential Norms issued by the USCCB.
This conversation led to the establishment of a more formal working party to continue the exploration of the issues, formalise the questions and work towards solutions. The working party met again at Bishop’s House, Newcastle, on 17th October 2005, and this was to become the regular venue. What had begun as a personal initiative of Bishop Dunn now had a mandate from the COPCA board, and equally the canonists were representing the CLSGBI. The focus was on areas perceived as problematic. We were aware that the Bishops’ Conference had established a working group under Archbishop Peter Smith to look at clergy terms and conditions of service and did not want to duplicate their work. On the other hand COPCA’s remit was wider than clergy, and extended to all office holders in the Church. Mgrs Hogan and Read were asked to work on a draft general decree, Fr Paver on legislation for office holders, and harmonisation with the other working party, and Eileen Shearer on tying in the language with the Nolan recommendations and COPCA policies.
The working party’s next meeting was on 26th January 2006. Questions had arisen as to the status of the working party, and Bishop Dunn agreed to approach the Standing Committee of the Bishops’ Conference, since transparency was important. Mgr Read and Eileen Shearer were to work on a procedural summary and flow chart, showing how the COPCA guidelines and Canon Law procedures could work together. This was motivated in part by the desire of the other working party to incorporate such check-list into a proposed clergy hand-book. We also looked more closely at the question of a general decree, and how or to what extent these could incorporate or endorse COPCA policies, given that these were liable to revision.
On 9th February 2006 Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor wrote on behalf of the Standing Committee of the Bishops’ Conference formally confirming the remit of the working party and its terms of reference as:
A further meeting was held on 11th May 2006. It had been agreed that it was important to have a link with the Religious of England and Wales, and Sister Martine Neil, who had also helped with the preparation of the CSGBI document in 2004, was invited to represent the Conference of Reliious, but was not able to attend this meeting. An issue concerning religious was that of a ‘celebret’ or annually renewable testimonial letter for visiting religious. The mandate from the Bishops’ Conference had set us a clear way forward as a group, but we were also conscious of the impending review by Lady Cumberlege. The question of a clergy hand-book and its content was still quite uncertain. Issues remained over ‘administrative leave’. Any wording would need to take into account the revisions put in place by the Holy See in the American Norms. It was agreed that it was more appropriate to speak of ‘temporary withdrawal from active ministry.’
The group met again on 11th October 2006, this time with Sister Martine in attendance and considered a number of draft documents; a protocol on temporary withdrawal from ministry; risk assessment; a possible addition to the proposed clergy handbook; a flowchart illustrating the progress in handling an allegation of child sexual abuse against a member of the clergy; draft particular laws and decree. Sister Martine explained the reservations of COR about the ‘celebret’.
At the next meeting on 14th February 2007 it was possible to ‘sign off’ a number of these items, the protocols on temporary withdrawal from ministry; risk assessment. A draft decree for particular law was agreed, and after revision would be passed to the Bishops’ Conference Low Week meeting and also the Cumberlege Commission. Sister Martine would consult other religious Canonists on proposed procedural guidelines for the dismissal of religious. The status of seminarians subject to allegations was clarified. A rationale was agreed to put to the Bishops in favour of enacting particular law.
The final meeting to date took place on 26th June 2007. Bishop Dunn reported that the Bishops had accepted the documents on the protocol for temporary withdrawal from the ministry, and risk assessment, at their Low Week meeting, and these had subsequently been issued to Bishops, Congregation Leaders and Child-Protection Co-ordinators. However, they felt more work would be needed on the draft decree once the Cumberlege Report had been published. The Conference would be holding a joint meeting with the Conference of Religious in November 2007 to consider their response to the Report. The working party then turned their attention to the issues concerning religious explained by Sister Martine. Given that the suggested protocol for the dismissal of religious was primarily intended for Congregation Leaders unfamiliar with Canon Law, it was felt that a flowchart format would be most helpful, clearly distinguishing between clerical and lay religious. The question of testimonials for religious was complex, given different provincial boundaries and jurisdictions, and further discussion was needed by the Conference of Religious. Other issues considered were a common ‘celebret’ for all clergy through COR and the Bishops’ Conference, incorporating a photograph and evidence of CRB check, and of a similar identity card for non-ordained religious brothers and sisters, access to records and a possible ‘code of conduct’ for clergy.
As will be seen, a considerable amount of water has flowed under the bridge, and work been done in the five years 2002-2007. Full harmonisation between the recommendations of Nolan and the provisions of Canon Law may not yet have been attained, but is much closer. We awaited the response of the Bishops’ Conference to the changes proposed by the Cumberlege Commission. Monsignor Gordon Read