Letter: Errant clergy

CLARE GARNER'S article asks "how much longer the Catholic Church can avoid facing up to the reality" of sex abuse. She seems to be a bit out of date.

In 1994 the Catholic Church was the first church in England and Wales to issue public guidelines on dealing with accusations of child sexual abuse made against clergy. It specifically forbade evasive actions, and guaranteed co-operation by the Church with statutory authorities in the interests of putting the safety of children first and detecting offenders. Two years later, it published a guide to helping victims and survivors. At present it has a working party on what to do with offenders after they are released from prison, so as best to protect children in the future.

Whatever one thinks about celibacy as a rule for clergy, it is clear that child sex abuse takes place in residential care, in families, and among other clergy, where the rule of celibacy does not prevail.

For a priest to form a sexual relationship with an adult in a counselling situation is abusive. This sort of abuse needs to be met both by penalties, because it is wrong and by removing opportunities of a repeat. With sufficient assessment, supervision, and proof of amendment, a priest may be dealt with in ways other than dismissal from ministry. Unlike child sex abuse such a relationship is not a criminal offence, nor necessarily evidence of obsessive, compulsive sexual behaviour.

I know of no seminary in England and Wales where celibacy and sexuality are not discussed when a person is being considered for suitability for the priesthood.


Assistant General Secretary

Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

London SW1