A former child protection consultant for the Scottish Catholic church has criticised its procedures for dealing with abuse, branding them a sham, only weeks after the country’s most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, was forced to resign over allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.
As evidence mounts of the chaotic response in the church to the crisis that O’Brien’s resignation caused, Alan Draper, who worked for the Motherwell diocese for seven years, says in an interview with the Observer that the church has been unable to produce the annual audits of abuse claims that it promised in 1996, or give any details of a coherent national policy, and that individual bishops are allowed to make decisions piecemeal. “For too long the bishops have been kings in their castles and accountable to nobody,” said Draper. “It’s very corrosive. Some dioceses may be doing a good job – but we have no knowledge or information about what’s been going on.”
Draper worked for Bishop Joseph Devine but left in 2003 because, he says, his advice was consistently ignored. He said he had to take Devine “kicking and screaming” with him when he tried to implement good practice. Last month, after revelations that Draper knew of 20 abuse cases where no action was taken, the church issued a statement about his departure. Draper has now consulted his lawyer about a defamation action against the church.
Devine’s handling of abuse cases continues to be controversial. Last week his solicitors sent a letter to a victim of abuse, confirming that her counselling would be axed despite warnings from her psychotherapist that she has been suicidal “for substantial periods” during treatment. The woman, Ann Matthews, was abused from the ages of 11–18 by her parish priest. “They are being told someone’s life is in danger and all they can say is too bad,” says Matthews, who has attempted suicide on four occasions. “I am just a drain on their resources.”
Despite the Scottish church’s claims that it implemented national guidelines for the protection of children and vulnerable adults in 1999, director of communications Peter Kearney admits bishops make the decisions because “there is no national body in ‘the church’ which has any competence in these matters”. There are three vacancies in Scotland‘s eight dioceses, with several bishops, including Devine, waiting to retire on grounds of age or ill health.
Procedures are increasingly in disarray, with the secretary to the bishops’ conference admitting that he “doesn’t know” if annual audits exist. “They haven’t been done until now,” said Mgr Hugh Bradley, before adding: “Some have been done – but I don’t know if they have been done every year.”
Ann Matthews’ case emerged during Draper’s time in Motherwell and should have been used as a model, he says. Matthews’ abuser admitted the offences and was sent for intensive residential counselling for six months before retiring to his native Ireland. “He got everything paid for until the end of his life,” says Draper.
Not so for Matthews, who has had counselling for 12 years but still suffers from eating and sleep disorders, anxiety and depression. The question, says Draper, is not how much counselling she has had, “it’s does she continue to need it? If she does, she should get it.” Matthews was told by the diocese’s “safeguarding adviser”, Mgr Hugh Bradley, that she could appeal against the bishop’s decision. But his solicitors’ letter last week said: “Contrary to what you may have understood, there is no formal protocol or procedure in place for an appeal against the decision of the bishop.” Any appeal would be at the bishop’s discretion and would only consider new evidence.
A spokesman for the bishop said that, while counselling could not continue, he had been unaware of the full facts and would ensure alternative help was offered. But the church has previously turned down a suggestion from Matthews and her psychotherapist that it fund a course of study for her instead of counselling. “I don’t matter to the church,” she said. “I am nothing to them but case A, B or C.”