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Catholic abuse in England and Wales revealed

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 15 September 2010

Channel 4 News has compiled the first map of Catholic abuse detailing some 37 cases across England and Wales where Catholic priests have committed sexual offences against children.

Channel 4 News investigation into child abuse in the Catholic church in England and Wales

Click here to see the interactive map

Over the last few months more evidence has emerged of systematic child abuse within the Catholic church from around the world, writes reporter Antony Barnett.

So what about the Catholic Church in England and Wales? What is the true scope and scale of the child sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests in England and Wales?

Channel 4 News has trawled through public records and double checked with court documents to put together a map of Catholic clerical abuse (see below - mouse over regions for details).

It lists some 37 cases of priests who have committed sexual crimes against children. The map shows where in England and Wales the abuse took place and is broken down by region, as defined by the Roman Catholic Dioceses of England & Wales. It contains details of convictions for sexual abuse and the sentences handed down.

But even this is likely to fall short of the real numbers. In some cases claims have never come to court because the priest has died, is believed to have been too old to come to court or has simply absconded. 
Ten years ago the Catholic Church in England and Wales was battling against claims that senior members of the clergy had covered up cases of child abuse and moved paedophile priests to parishes despite knowing they were abusers.

The then-Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, was himself facing allegations he personally allowed Father Michael Hill to work as a chaplain at Gatwick Airport even though Hill was known to have abused in the passed. Hill went on to abuse again and was jailed after pleading guilty to nine counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor later said he regretted what had happened - and that at the time he was acting on advice from professionals, when the behaviour of child abusers was not as well understood as it is now.

As a result of the growing unease, in 2001 Cardinal O'Connor announced that the senior judge Lord Nolan would carry out a review of child protection policies.

While this was almost universally welcomed, Nolan's review was not designed to be an independent investigation into what had happened in Britain. Its primary objective was to suggest new procedures to deal with abuse allegations in the future and ensure mistakes were learnt from past behaviour.

Nolan's recommendations were fully adopted by the Catholic Church and widely greeted as an important step forward. 

A Channel 4 News investigation has, however, raised questions over one of Nolan's key recommendations: that priests who were jailed for serious sexual offences against children should normally be dismissed from the church, or 'laicised'.

It is often described as "historic abuse" yet anybody hearing the testimony of some of the hundreds of victims still living with the trauma of what happened to them, the abuse is very much a contemporary issue.

Many have had to fight for years for justice and compensation, claiming their lives have been ruined by sexual assaults carried out by members of the Catholic clergy. 

It is true, new much-improved child protection procedures have been brought in since Lord Nolan and the Pope and senior church leaders have made public apologies and offered contrition. 
Yet until a complete picture of what happened in Britain emerges, then new abuse scandals will continue to dog the Catholic Church. Campaigners in this country want a full inquiry and demand that church files are handed over to an independent committee.

The only people that know the full story are the bishops and religious orders themselves. They have released some information. After Nolan, the Catholic authorities in England and Wales created a body called the Church Office for Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA) headed by the now Archbishop of Westminster Vince Nichols.

Each year it - and its successor body - has produced an annual report revealing statistics about the number of allegations of abuse and giving some indication of the subsequent action taken against members of the clergy.

To date it has detailed 302 sex abuse allegations made to the church since 2003 but – as our map of abuse shows - it only tells the partial story.

Unless the Church authorities open their files to full independent scrutiny we will never know the full extent of the scandal. 

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