IF THE testament of my friends who have already seen Spotlight is to be trusted, I can expect an enthralling if deeply uncomfortable cinematic experience when I go to see it next week. The film is about the investigation conducted by the Boston Globe newspaper in 2001 into widespread and systemic child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the city and the how the church tried to cover it all up.

For a small but growing group of men and women in Scotland the film carries a wretched resonance. When they were children, they were sexually abused in locations around Scotland by Catholic priests and in Catholic primary schools, yet they are still waiting for the Church in this country and the Holyrood Government to take their cases seriously.

A handful of them, representing abuse survivors’ groups from all over Scotland, have been granted an audience next Thursday with Angela Constance, the Education Secretary. They will be given an hour and expenses of no more than £100, significantly below the going rate for qualified legal representation, and the group face being without a lawyer at their meeting.

Loading article content

Allocating just one hour for this meeting and refusing to meet each of the groups represented separately suggests that this will be another box-ticking exercise as the Government and the Catholic Church in Scotland seek to continue their mission to bury this out of sight.

These men, many of whom say they were raped as children, are treated as irritants, the victims of a dirty crime that disfigures the image of smart, successful and enlightened Scotland we all want to portray to the world.

Such an attitude pales in comparison with that which exists in England and Wales. There Teresa May, the UK Home Secretary, has shown she is serious about delivering justice for the survivors of child sexual abuse. The Justice Goddard Inquiry into abuse in England and Wales, instituted by Ms May, will be wide ranging and extensive. Its remit extends everywhere there was even a suspicion of clerical and other institutional child sex abuse in England and Wales.

On December 27 Justice Goddard announced phase one of her inquiry, which will have 12 areas of investigation running concurrently. Included in these will be child sex abuse in the Catholic Church with a specific focus on the English Benedictine Congregation. The report will look at accountability and will address the issue of compensation for victims and survivors.

The Goddard Report and Ms May’s commitment to seeking justice for the victims and survivors for these wicked crimes puts Scotland to shame. Here we had the McLellan Commission last August and its Review of the Current Safeguarding Policies, Procedures and Practice within the Catholic Church in Scotland.

In future, any definition of the word whitewash ought to direct the reader to this document, which glossed over historical abuse; failed to indicate how widespread it was in Scotland and avoided calling to account the members of the Catholic hierarchy in whose jurisdictions this abuse took place. White Flowers Alba is a group established by Andrew Lavery, a trained psychiatric nurse who says he endured persistent and unimaginable abuse as a child at the hands of monks at an order formerly based in the north of Scotland. His attempts at seeking some form of redress have been stonewalled by the Scottish Catholic Church.

It says that, as the abuse was carried out by English monks, it is effectively outwith the its jurisdiction. This is effectively an ecclesiastical confidence trick by the Catholic hierarchy who simply don’t want to take any responsibility for children in their care being abused by priests on Scottish soil.

The group comprises around 70 members, all of whom have suffered abuse by Catholic priests in jurisdictions all over Scotland.

Mr Lavery said: “There are hundreds and probably thousands of other men out there who are either too traumatised or too afraid to speak out about the crimes which happened to them.

“White Flowers Alba is a peer-driven support and advocacy group which has grown to include men who were abused as children in Ayrshire, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Highlands and the Lothians. Our members reside in Scotland, England, Europe and even in Australia.”

The group works with a senior liaison officer from Police Scotland’s National Child Abuse Unit and has facilitated an increasing number of disclosures to police across the country. Mr Lavery’s role is to travel across the UK and enable other survivors to secure access to services, benefits, social workers and medical care. Thus far he has received no funding from the Catholic Church or the Government.

Instead, he has been treated appallingly, as though somehow the abuse he endured when he was at his most vulnerable was somehow his fault. This mirrors the experiences of other survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests; they are made to feel like bad people for even daring to raise the subject.

As things stand in Scotland there is no hope of justice for these men who are denied even having their cases heard. Meanwhile, the Church retreats behind the protection of the McLellan Commission and its vague recommendations to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and that if it does “Scotland will get very cross with it”.

I have been shown a letter that had just arrived at White Flowers Alba from a man who was at Fort Augustus Abbey school as a pupil.

This is an excerpt from it. “Whilst I do not think I have any outstanding evidence I would be prepared to testify as to the general abusive environment and the bullying that I, too, was a victim of from both staff and Abbey Boys during my time from 1968-74/5. In those days there was a high degree of acceptance of the cruel conditions we lived it. These days it would be labelled as child abuse and neglect.”

As a practising Catholic this causes me great distress but it ought to act as a judgment on the church’s hierarchy and on our Government. The Catholic Church in this country, and I have done this myself, has eagerly sought the role of victim too often when faced with honest interrogation about its continuing influence in a secular country.

Now is the time to for it to reach out in charity and compassion to proper victims, those who were abused at a time in their lives when they expected to be loved and protected.

If it persists in its denial then our Government, which can summon knights, Lords and captains to account for their actions, must finally call it out. And if the Government won’t then we must take our lead from our comrades on the Boston Globe and do its job for it.