Children should give confession 'behind glass panel'

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The Independent Online

Roman Catholic confessions for children would be held in public view to stop abuse by paedophile priests under guidelines published yesterday.

Confessions could be held behind glass so parents or guardians would be sure their child was safe but the secrecy of the sacrament would be maintained because the glass would prevent anyone hearing what was said.

The proposal is one of 83 recommendations in the final report of the first independent inquiry into child abuse within the Catholic Church, which are expected to be adopted as official policy.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Nolan, was ordered by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, last year after a series of scandals blighted the reputation of the Church. Between 1995 and 1999, 21 of the 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of child abuse.

Yesterday's report, "A Programme for Action", builds on the 50 recommendations outlined in an interim report in April, which were accepted in full by the Church, and adds another 33 proposals, including reform of children's confession and protection for whistle-blowers.

The reform is designed to improve protection of children while safeguarding the confidentiality of the confessional, one of the most sacred aspects of Catholicism.

Lord Nolan's draft report recommended setting up a national child protection unit to promote good practice, creating a national database to vet candidates for the priesthood and checks with the new Criminal Record Bureau.

Yesterday's final report recognised the first draft had not made enough of the worries of people who were faced with reporting alleged abuse. It said that people reporting accusations must not be made to feel they were "letting the side down" and the Church needed to have a cultural change through which all priests, lay people and volunteers were reassured they were acting in the interests of their Church by reporting abuse.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, welcomed the report as "a thorough and comprehensive document. It is the aim of all of us that the Catholic Church in England and Wales will be seen as an example of best practice in the prevention of child abuse, and in responding to it," he said.

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