BY CHRISTINA WHITE
THE ARCHDIOCESE of Birmingham has published new child protection guidelines set to be the template for dioceses across Britain.
The guidelines, the third set issued by the archdiocese, take on board Lord Nolan's report on child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales and centre on the paramountcy principle, which places the welfare of children ahead of all other considerations.
Under the new regulations priests who have been previously cleared in court of child abuse allegations will still face a risk assessment and other sanctions.
At the press launch last Wednesday, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham said he was confident that "as far as he was aware there were no more skeletons" to be revealed. The guidelines, he said, would put in place procedures to protect children.
"No priest convicted of offences against children will have a role of trust in the diocese," he said.
A copy of the guidelines has been sent to every diocese. Birmingham is understood to be the first diocese to incorporate the Nolan recommendations within a working document. As such it provides a blueprint for the Church authorities.
Archbishop Nichols said: "What we are looking to is people's behaviour and not just their words. What we will gradually be able to do, as the whole of society has to do, is to begin to spot where things are not quite right.
"In the case of somebody who has had allegations made against them, been brought to court and been found not guilty, there still remains the issue of any abiding risk to children and the paramountcy principle."
Birmingham has faced its own share of child abuse allegations. The archdiocese is currently facing a High Court action for damages brought by a former altar boy Simon Grey who claims to have been abused for eight years by an assistant parish priest.
It is believed to be the first time a case has been brought against a diocese, rather than the alleged perpetrator of the abuse.
Lawyers for the archdiocese had originally resisted the claim on the grounds that it was outside the statutory time limit for registering an action. That objection was overruled by the High Court.
Archbishop Nichols acknowledged the widespread hurt involved in clerical child abuse. And he accepted the burden of responsibility now on the Church to take action against the offender and protect the victim.
"When a priest commits a sin like this, the guilt of that spreads," he said.
"Though he remains responsible for his actions, the burden goes much more widely and I accept that."
A spokesman for the archdiocese said the guidelines had been well-received and they were "extremely pleased" with the feedback.