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Catholic Church probe to speak to abuse victims

An independent review into the Catholic Church's safeguarding and handling of abuse is to speak to victims in an attempt to create a policy of "no abuse and no cover up".

The Very Rev Andrew McLellan, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and one-time chief inspector of prisons, is leading a commission of 11 other members, including senior police and social work officers, to review current policies and practices within the Catholic Church in Scotland.

The commission will speak to victims of abuse to find out their experiences but will not investigate or rule on specific cases. Any allegations of criminal activity will be passed to police, the commission said.

It was set up by the Catholic Church last year in the wake of the scandal surrounding Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

Diocesan Safeguarding Audits from 2006 to 2012 were also published giving a breakdown of incidents reported during that time.

A total of 46 allegations were reported, of which 55% related to sexual abuse, 19% to physical abuse, 11% were allegations of verbal abuse and 15% were in connection with emotional abuse.

Of those accused, 56% were priests, 22% were volunteers, 11% were parishioners and the remainder were staff or other people connected to the church.

There have been no prosecutions in relation to 61% of all cases reported, the church said. A further 15% resulted in a prosecution, 10% are still under investigation and the remaining 14% are described as ''unknown historical cases''.

Mr McLellan has now established the make-up of the commission and aims to publish a final report in the summer of 2015, but will make recommendations earlier if they encounter matters "which must be acted upon immediately".

He said he was surprised to be asked to take on the role, but will do it "without fear or favour".

He said: "I think it's to the credit of the church that they have decided not just that they needed a clear examination of policies and practices but that it needed to be independent. They needed someone from outside and a commission appointed to do this work.

"They are to be congratulated for that but it doesn't mean they are to be protected from our work. We will be independent in what we do and our recommendations will be based on the evidence that we find rather than trying to please anybody.

"I was surprised myself to be asked to carry out this task. I don't think it would have happened 30 or even 20 years ago that they would have appointed a Protestant minister to carry out this review. I think it helps that I know how a church works, although when I was appointed I knew none of the Catholic bishops.

"But I'm not here on an ecumenical adventure, my task is to make sure people get a fair hearing and that the commission examines evidence thoroughly and that the recommendations are clear and vigorous and made without fear or favour."

Last year, the church also announced a further audit of all cases of historic abuse allegations between 1947 and 2005 is to be published.

The three initiatives, it says, were launched ''in a spirit of openness and transparency''.

Mr McLellan is confident that all recommendations from the commission will be implemented.

He said: "The Catholic Church announced three different approaches to the terrible legacy of abuse within their church, ours is to examine the present practices and make sure that safeguarding is the best it can be today, tomorrow and for the future so that the Catholic Church can move towards a policy of no abuse and no cover up. It's the only credible practice.

"I wouldn't have taken this appointment on without an assurance from the Catholic bishops that the recommendations would be accepted.

"I'm confident that, perhaps because of the experiences of last year, the Catholic Church will want to do whatever they can to make sure that it's a safe place, and that will include accepting our recommendations.

"It'll be really important to us to listen to those who have suffered abuse within the Catholic Church, we want them to tell us how they were treated by the church after their abuse; were they listened to, were they supported.

"If, during the course of these conversations, there are allegations of further criminal activity then these are matters for the police and for the courts and we will not keep confidential matters which we have an obligation to report to the proper authorities."

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

Mr McLellan said: "We thought as many different backgrounds and experiences as possible would contribute to the work which we are doing.

"The list of commissioners has a great deal of relevant experience and people are already bringing their energy and wisdom to the work of the commission.

"It's not just about examining paperwork and listening to people, it's about hearts and minds. It's an important task because the harm which even only one person suffers can last a lifetime."

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