By Simon Caldwell
Tim CATHOLIC Church in England and Wales has launched a high-powered independent review of its child protection procedures.
A review body, chaired by Ampleforth-educated Lord Nolan, and which will be called the Nolan Review, was announced on Tuesday by Archbishop Curmac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, who also issued a forthright apology for the actions of the 21 priests convicted of crimes against children over the last 30 years.
At a press conference in Archbishop's House. Westminster, the archbishop said: "1 wish to apologise sincerely to the survivors of abuse and their families and communities, particularly when there has been abuse by people exercising responsibility in the Church.
"They have been hurt, not just by the abusers, but also by mistaken attitudes with the church community at all levels. I acknowledge that far too often there has been insensitivity and Madequate response to their hurt."
Promising that the findings of the report would be published, he added: The Catholic Church has not and must not have anything to hide in its handling of the problems of child abuse and child protection."
Besides Lord Nolan, who in the early 1990s was invited by John Major to investigate sleaze in Parliament, the review body also includes Sir Swinton Thomas, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal, who was one of the appeal judges in the Pembroke ritual abuse case of 1995, considered by some to be a spectacular miscarriage of justice.
The review body also includes David Veness, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; Gill Mackenzie. Chief Probation Officer of Gloucester and the chairman of the Association of Chief Probation Officers, and Dr Maurice Lipsedge, a consultant psychiatrist with South London and the Maudsley NHS Trust.
It also includes child abuse specialists Hilary Eldridge, director of the Lucy Faithful' Foundation, and Caroline Abraham. director of public policy for the National Children's Homes' Action for Children. The Church is represented by Bishop Peter Smith of East Anglia, who has chaired an internal committee set up by the bishops last autumn to review the 1994 provisional document, Child Abuse — Pastoral and Procedural Guidelines, and by Mgr John Kennedy, child protection coordinator in the Liverpool Archdiocese, where practice is considered exemplary.
The Nolan Review was set up by Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor with the support of the bishops to examine "arrangements made for child protection and the prevention of abuse" within the Church.
It "will not investigate or comment on individual cases but it will take into account the experience of operating the guidelines" before it makes recommendations to the bishops, who reserve the right to either accept or reject them.
The bishops are keen to establish and demonstrate the most effective child protection measures in the wake of the criticism meted out to Archbishop MurphyO'Connor over his treatment of the paedophile, Fr Michael Hill.
In the 1980s, while Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor accepted advice to allow Hill to work in an "industrial chaplaincy" at Gatwick Airport after receiving complaints that the priest was an abuser. Fr Hill re-offended and was convicted on 10 counts of sexual assault in 1997 for which he was sent to jail. He was released last Friday.
Archbishop Murphy O'Connor intends to consolidate this week's apology with a pastoral letter to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Westminster which will be read out at Masses on Sunday.
"As bishop of this diocese 1 am determined to ensure that in all our institutions and communities we provide a safe environment for children. Our procedures and practices must achieve this," he will say.
"Once again, 1 express sorrow at any failures in the past to deal adequately with these issues. I promise to do all in my power to ensure that such failures are not repeated."
While the Church has made the issue of child protection paramount, however it is also keen to ensure justice for priests who are maliciously and falsely accused of abuse of various forms.
Archbishop MurphyO'Connor said the review will take into account the requirements of charity law and the canon law of the Church, and it will also pay attention to human rights legislation, which includes a right to a presumption of innocence.
Margaret Jervis, the legal continued p2 editorial — p7