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Catholic Archbishop Philip Tartaglia says sorry to Church abuse victims

Published 18/08/2015

Cardinal Keith O'Brien stepped down from the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February 2013 after allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him
Cardinal Keith O'Brien stepped down from the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February 2013 after allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him

Scotland's most senior Catholic Archbishop, Philip Tartaglia, has apologised to survivors of abuse within the church in Scotland following the publication of an independent review of its handling of allegations.

A commission led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan called for the church to make an ''unmistakeable and unequivocal'' apology and said support for survivors of abuse must be its ''absolute priority''.

Archbishop Tartaglia, president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, issued the apology in his homily during a mass at St Andrew's Cathedral in Glasgow this afternoon.

He said: "As the president of the Bishops' Conference, and on behalf of all the Bishops of Scotland, I want to offer a profound apology to all those who have been harmed and who have suffered in any way as a result of actions by anyone within the Catholic Church.

"Child abuse is a horrific crime. That this abuse should have been carried out within the Church, and by priests and religious, takes that abuse to another level.

"Such actions are inexcusable and intolerable. The harm the perpetrators of abuse have caused is first and foremost to their victims, but it extends far beyond them, to their families and friends, as well as to the church and wider society."

The Archbishop said the actions of perpetrators of abuse were "criminal and sinful".

He added: "I would like to assure the survivors of abuse that the Catholic Bishops of Scotland are shamed and pained by what you have suffered. We say sorry. We ask forgiveness.

"We apologise also to those who have found the Church's response slow, unsympathetic or uncaring and reach out to them as we take up the recommendations of the McLellan Commission.

"We recognise the trauma and pain that victims and survivors of abuse have suffered and we are committed to providing for them both justice and healing."

The Archbishop said the report gave the Catholic Church in Scotland "a vision and a programme" to strengthen safeguarding and respond to the needs of survivors.

He said: "The Bishops of Scotland, I'm glad to say, have agreed unanimously to accept the report's recommendations in full.

"We will act on every recommendation and redouble our efforts to ensure that safeguarding standards are as high as possible."

Dr McLellan, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and one-time chief inspector of prisons, was given the task of evaluating the procedures in place within the church to protect vulnerable children and adults and ensure that the church is ''a safe place for all''.

His 11-member commission made eight recommendations, including that justice must be done for those who have been abused.

The report also recommends that the church's safeguarding policies and practices be completely rewritten and subject to external scrutiny.

It calls for a consistent approach to dealing with allegations across Scotland and improved training for those in the church.

Dr McLellan said: ''The Bishops have said from the outset that they will accept our recommendations.

''That means that three things will happen.

''First and most important a beginning will be made to heal the hurt and address the anger which so many survivors feel.

''Second, the Catholic Church in Scotland will begin to confront a dark part of its past and find some healing for itself.

''Third, a significant step will be taken in restoring public credibility for the Catholic Church.''

Dr McLellan said the issue was the "greatest challenge facing the whole Catholic Church in Scotland" but that his report offered an "unrepeatable" chance for improvement.

He said: ''If this opportunity is not taken, survivors will know there is no hope left for them within the Catholic Church in Scotland.

''If this opportunity is not taken, many Catholics who are longing for a new beginning will feel betrayed by their church.

''If this opportunity is not taken, the public credibility of the Catholic Church in Scotland will be destroyed.

''I believe our report gives the Bishops the beginning of a way to change.

''The way to change which they all say they want - from secrecy to openness, from systems which allow evil to survive to systems which ensure that good is done.''

The commission was set up in November 2013 by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland in response to a series of scandals, including the resignation of disgraced cardinal Keith O'Brien.

He stepped down from the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February 2013 after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.

As part of its work, the commission heard from victims of abuse but its remit did not extend to investigating or ruling on current or historical allegations.

Its members included Malcolm Graham, Assistant Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Ranald Mair, chief executive of Scottish Care, and Kathleen Marshall, former Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Figures released by the Catholic Church in Scotland show there have been 61 allegations of abuse made between 2006 and 2013.

A review of all cases of historic abuse allegations between 1947 and 2005, is also to be published at a later date.

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