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Church in Crisis

Church office to monitor child protection


The Catholic church in England and Wales has appointed Eileen Shearer as head of the new Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, according to British media reports. The single mother with a long career in children’s services will advise the church in England and Wales on the prevention of child abuse and the protection of adults.

Her office will be located in Birmingham, England, under the direction of its archbishop, Vincent Nichols, chairman of the management board for the new office. The office will monitor policy implementation on a national basis and produce an annual report to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which will be published.

Her appointment followed an independent report by Lord Nolan, a leading lay Catholic. This report was ordered by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales. Between 1995 and 1999, 21 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of child sex abuse. Lord Nolan’s report put forward 83 recommendations. Crucial to their implementation, said the report, will be the setting up of the Catholic Office for Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults.

The report recommended that every bishop set up a team to fight child abuse in his diocese and also that every potential priest and church volunteer be examined for a criminal record. Selection boards for priests should, it said, “err on the side of caution,” when considering suspicious candidates.

Shearer has had a successful 25-year career in children’s services, including 16 years working for the British National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and has also held a post of regional director for that organization. She has also helped write a number of publications concerning child protection. She is the mother of a teenage girl.

Shearer will have three full-time assistants and a fully computerized system that will have access to criminal records. “The main role of my office is prevention,” she said in an interview with the BBC. “I will not be some kind of modern day devil’s advocate. My staff will work to ensure that the wrong people do not get the opportunity to work with children.

“Roman Catholics must now feel that they can turn to a body who will not only listen to their concerns but will act on them. If a person had a concern over a bishop, they can now come to us rather than the church hierarchy,” Shearer said.

Some have denounced Shearer’s appointment as nothing more than a public relations exercise. They point to a recent Vatican ruling that appeared to say that discipline would remain a church matter. Shearer insists this will not be the case. “Whatever the outcome of internal disciplinary proceedings, it cannot stop cases of alleged abuse being investigated by statutory agencies and criminal charges being brought when necessary. Once again I must emphasize that my appointment demonstrates that the Roman Catholic church is serious about this matter.”

National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002