The Chair of the CSSA – Catholic Safeguarding
Something is clearly badly wrong with the CSSA:two key members have mysteriously resigned and in the wake of the shaming IICSA report Nazir Afzul was surprisingly upbeat.
Let me remind what the IICSA final report had to say: The investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales revealed a sorry history of child sexual abuse where abusive priests and members of religious orders and institutions preyed on children for prolonged periods of time. Between 1970 and 2015, the Church received more than 3,000 complaints against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church. In the same period, there were 177 prosecutions, resulting in 133 convictions. Millions of pounds have been paid to victims and survivors in civil proceedings. Since 2016, there have been more than 100 reported allegations of recent and non-recent child sexual abuse every year. The true scale of abuse over a 50-year period is likely to be much greater.
Responses to disclosures about child sexual abuse have been characterised by a failure to support victims and survivors – in stark contrast to the positive action often taken to protect perpetrators and the reputation of the Church.
The reactions of Church leaders over time were marked by delay in implementing change, as well as reluctance to hold individuals to account or to make sincere apologies. On occasions, they conveyed a grudging and unsympathetic attitude to victims and survivors. In order to shake off the failures of the past, real and lasting changes to attitudes are needed.
Although there have been some improvements to current safeguarding arrangements, more recent audits have identified weaknesses. The culture and attitudes in the Roman Catholic Church have been resistant to change.
Nazir Afzal. Chair of Safeguarding, shows no signs of regret or contrition or apology on behalf of the Church he represents. In fact, his tone is onwards and upwards, business as usual. Here he is:
But in another interview with the Tablet he goes further. He notes the importance of Canon Law which – if it defies the Law of the Land – is a criminal offence. That’s what de facto he is supporting even though IICSA have recommended the confessional be unsealed and it is the law in Australia. He didn’t know about the law in Oz! Here’s how I covered it in a tweet
When @nazirafzal talks about sanctity of ‘canon law’ in context of the confessional he is de facto placing it over Law of the Land. He has previous – obliquely defending categories of paedophilia and showing that organisations like the Church are not as bad abusers as families.
I would refer you to a past post where he actually comes out with a tweet in support of those who would mitigate the crimes of paedophiles by categorising them in different age groups. A classic device by the Catholic Church and also by paedophiles themselves.
It gets worse!
In the other interview with the Tablet he is dismissive of IICSA’s recommendations where the confessional is concerned. That’s a very serious matter.
Here’s how I tweeted about it:
@nazirafzal claims predators’ confessions to abuse in the confessional are ‘extremely rare’. Academic Marie Keenan proves him wrong : 8 out of 9 clergy abusers she spoke to ‘disclosed their abuse during confession.’ When is someone going to hold this Fraud to account?
Marie Keenan’s information is in the same article! Keenan is Ireland’s leading academic on abuse and is highly respected. Nazir is clearly and knowingly guilty of spreading disinformation. That’s appalling when you are head of the CCSA.
A group of Catholic survivors were so disturbed by his behaviour we recently wrote a letter with a great deal of thought, detail and restraint.
Concerns re CSSA
Following the publication of the IICSA report and the Elliott review (Elliott, 2020), which was accepted in full by the Catholic Bishops’ conference, survivors were hopeful that finally change was going to take place within the RC church in its dealings with safeguarding matters.
We welcomed the appointment of Nazir Afzal as the first Chairperson of the new Safeguarding structure, trusting that he and the new board would work to drive through the very necessary changes that were so badly needed.
Over the last year, while there have been some small signs of progress, the spirit of optimism, which survivors had, has steadily waned away as we have witnessed what is happening at grassroots level.
Our experience over the last year is that survivor engagement is generally not following Ian Elliot’s recommendations.
Instead, survivors’ experiences have included
-being redirected to the body within the Church who was responsible for their original abuse and then re abused them when they summoned up the courage to come forward to disclose that abuse.
There was an attempt to set up of a new survivor reference panel last autumn. Survivors known to Catholic Safeguarding were not made aware but stumbled across an advertisement on CSSA website by chance. Immediately, they could see many flaws in what was being proposed. Additionally, it was not advertised in a way that was likely to be seen by survivors.
Survivors wrote collectively to the new board raising their queries. It was only after a considerable amount of chasing that a date was set for a meeting. The way it had been proposed that a new panel would be set up, and then the difficulties in trying to engage with the board to voice concerns began to seriously undermine trust in CSSA.
At the meeting they were told that the board “had got it wrong” regarding the way it proposed to set up the new survivor panel.
The board met with them on 2 further occasions. They were told that until a new panel was formed that they would be used as an “informal panel” and that the board would send an invitation to meet with them in April, to introduce them to a Communications officer who CSSA had appointed and would be the point of liaison with survivors.
Survivors have never received the promised invitation. One survivor chased with regard to it and has now met with Board members. The onus should not lie with survivors to have to keep chasing and no attempt has been made to offer survivors the opportunity of an introduction to the Communications officer.
It has become clear that there is lack of understanding among the board members that clerical abuse carries with it additional and very far-reaching impacts on survivors, because of the spiritual dynamics inherent in it. This issue demonstrates the need for CSSA to engage with survivors in the way Ian Elliot has described, but at present that engagement is not happening (except perhaps in a very limited way with a very small number of survivors)
There is little or no evidence of an interest or willingness to engage with or listen to survivors to try to understand the reality of our abuse, or of trying to live with it since it happened, and the way in which that has been compounded by the church’s unwillingness to provide any meaningful help or support. Many live with a sense that they are not even believed, others are left with the sense that they are troublemakers.
There have been inappropriate and extremely insensitive comments about paedophilia on social media by a board member. When challenged no attempt was made to either apologise or withdraw the comments.
We were told by one board member
“One thing it is important to say is that the CSSA is formed to implement robust standards for safeguarding in the Church going forward from 2021. We will not be able to right the wrongs of the past but to look forward to make sure things are done well in the future.”
A representative for a survivor spoke to Nazir Afzal recently and relayed back that she was told
“CSSA will not be providing support for any survivors.
Any disclosures re matters that occurred prior to CSSA forming would need to be taken to the police for investigating.
When CSSA starts auditing it will not look at anything which has happened prior to June 2021
CSSA is not independent as actions will have to get clearance from Rome”
These comments suggest that CSSA intends working in a way that is a far cry from the sort of survivor engagement Ian Elliott recommended.
Over the last year survivors have experienced a repetition of the ignoring and marginalising tactics which the Church has used for so long with survivors. If this continues nothing will change in the way the Church responds to survivors and their suffering and pain will continue to be lifelong.
In the Elliot Review it was recommended that a formal case consultation service would be set up to manage allegations and concerns and that this entity would be a ‘critical friend’, able to support and encourage but with a major change of emphasis from it being advisory, to being empowered to challenge and uphold professional standards, holding the constituent(s) to account.
We cannot find evidence of this being implemented.
The complaints procedure which we have had sight of falls far short of that described in Elliott review. It permits recommendations on the part of CSSA, but does not seem to have powers of enforcement and will also only become involved in a complaint when every other avenue has been exhausted-thus leaving survivors with no option but to continue re engaging with a body who has been harming them.
Nazir Afzal publicly encouraged survivors to contact him saying he wants to hear from them (Tablet article-24th March 2022). Our lived experience is somewhat different and is endorsed by Danny Sullivan, a former Chair of NCSC in the same article.
“It is welcome that at last after some almost nine months in post Nazir Afzal is making public comments about his role”.
Citing a “thoroughly disheartening” recent experience with the safeguarding process, Sullivan, speaking to The Tablet, criticised the Church’s continued intent to “self-police” regarding abuse allegations. “Nazir Afzal talks about protecting children but so far there seems no urgency about supporting current victims of abuse who are not apologised to for their abuse or worse still not treated with the care and sensitivity due to them according to CSSA’s current protocols. They are certainly not treated as the priority bishops said they would be after the IICSA report.”
Can CSSA answer the following questions so survivors have full clarity on how it proposes operating.
1.If CSSA is not going to provide support for survivors how does it envisage that things will “be done well in the future”?
2.Why is CSSA saying that it will not to provide support for survivors, given that it was recommended so strongly in the Elliott review ( which was accepted in full by the Catholic Bishops’ conference?
3.Survivors generally take many years to summon up sufficient courage to disclose their abuse, meaning that almost all disclosures are historical. Can CCSA confirm whether they perceive that it is an important part of Catholic Safeguarding’s role to support survivors when they disclose their abuse, to then pass it to the police?
Survivors who have disclosed their abuse to Catholic Safeguarding prior to CSSA being formed have very frequently been revictimised. Can you describe the service you are going to offer to these survivors? This is not a matter where the police will become involved. However, it is imperative that CSSA addresses the serious trauma that survivors have experienced to enable them to begin to recover from it. If CSSA is not going to provide this service, can they explain the reason for this decision?
4.Why is CSSA not going to look at anything which happened prior to 2021? This will cover up a great deal of the Church’s catastrophic failings possibly forever. It is extremely protective of the body who has abused a great many very vulnerable people and will serve only to help those who are responsible for abusing. Does CSSA believe this is acceptable?
5.What steps is CSSA going to take now to put right the serious breakdown in trust with survivors which has occurred since it was formed in 2021?
6. When is CSSA going to actively engage with a wide number of survivors, including all those who indicated interest in working with CSSA in autumn 2021?
7.Does CSSA intend to rewrite the present complaints procedure so it is in line with Ian Elliot’s recommendations and protects the interests of survivors. When will this be done?
8.If CSSA needs clearance from Rome for its actions how does it justify describing itself as being a regulator?
We look forward to your responses.
With many thanks,
A group of Catholic Survivors
Elliott, I. (2020, September 21). Independent Review of Safeguarding Structures and Arrangements in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Retrieved from The Catholic Church Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales: https://www.cbcew.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/11/Independent-Review-Safeguarding-Report-2020.pdf
This is the reply we received
14th October 2022
Thank you for your open letter ‘Concerns re CSSA’ this week.
On behalf of Nazir Afzal (Chair) and the Board we were very saddened to read it. Thank you for stating your concerns clearly for us to consider.
In the first instance we will table your letter for discussion with our new Survivor Reference Panel at our next meeting which is likely to be in November to seek their advice and guidance.
We welcome your input; we may not be able to answer all of your queries in detail at this time but again assure you of our wish to engage with survivors on an ongoing basis
With our very best wishes,
This is typical of the prevarication and dismissive tone of the CSSA of which Nazir is Chair. As we have chronicled in the past, the CSSA have endlessly stalled in the manner above. And will go on doing so.
The CSSA needs investigating as a matter of urgency and Nazir needs to resign.
He said to me that he received a standing ovation from the Bishops when he took the job.
He will not get a standing ovation from survivors.
Let me state the obvious to Nazir:
In your interview you are remarkably upbeat after the IICSA report summarised the disgusting crimes of the Church you are safeguarding.
IT’S FOR SURVIVORS TO SAY IFYOU ARE DOING A GOOD JOB . NOT YOU. AND NOT YOUR PAYMASTERS, THE PRINCES OF THE CHURCH.
THE ANSWER IS : NO. YOU ARE DOING A TERRIBLE JOB AND SPREADING DISINFORMATION AND IGNORING SURVIVORS IS UNACCEPTABLE.
YOU DO NOT HAVE THE CONFIDENCE OF SURVIVORS. YOU HAVE ENDLESSLY PREVARICATED. YOOU HAVE PROVIDED DISINFORMATION. YOU HAVE NOT FULLY ENGAGED WITH US. YOU HAVE BEHAVED LIKE A SPIN DOCTOR. YOU HAVE SAFEGUARDED THE PRINCES OF THE CHURCH, NOT SURVIVORS OF ITS CRIMES.
YOU MUST RESIGN.