Cardinal Keith O'Brien 'blocked church sex abuse report', says archbishop

Cardinal Keith O'Brien Cardinal Keith O'Brien was President of the Conference of Scottish Bishops

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The former archbishop of Glasgow has said Cardinal Keith O'Brien blocked a report into sex abuse in the church.

Writing to the Tablet, Emeritus Archbishop of Glasgow Mario Conti said Cardinal O'Brien, who has admitted sexual misconduct with other priests, prevented the investigation.

Other Scottish bishops had agreed the inquiry should go ahead.

However, the Catholic paper's deputy editor said the church should have proceeded with an audit anyway.

Elena Curtis said: "Cardinal O'Brien was one bishop and there would have been no reason why the other bishops couldn't have proceeded with an independent audit without him."

'Low credibility'

Alan Draper, an academic who was appointed in mid-1990s to advise the Church on sexual abuse and how to respond to it, said he was surprised by Archbishop Conti's claims.

"What does that tell you about the other bishops? Where is their personal integrity?

"Were they not prepared to say 'the survivors and victims are demanding these sorts of reviews', we're going ahead with it?

"Until they do that, they'll continue to have very low credibility among the laity."

The Catholic Church has said an audit of abuse cases in the past six years is to be published soon, and that it will engage in any process which allows "lessons to be learned".

Archbishop Conti told the Catholic paper he was confident the percentage of priests involved in abuse was small.

Commenting on the continuing investigation into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at Fort Augustus School, Archbishop Conti said he would have alerted the proper authorities if the allegations had been made to him while he was Bishop of Aberdeen.

He held that post from 1977 to 2002.

Meanwhile a senior Liberal Democrat peer has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of abuse at Fort Augustus Abbey School. Lord Carlile also called for prosecutions to be considered.

Safeguarding

Archbishop Conti, in his letter to the Tablet, said: "It was the intention of all but one member of the bishops' conference to commission an independent examination of the historical cases we had on file in all of our respective dioceses and publish the results but this was delayed by the objection of the then-President of the Conference; without full participation of all the dioceses the exercise would have been faulty."

He pointed out that historical cases are now being examined, adding: "I understand that in the light of the criticisms the Church has been facing, these audits will now be published.

"I think they will go some way towards confirming Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell's remarks that the percentage of priests involved in abuse is 'tiny', and in demonstrating the seriousness and competence with which the Church in Scotland has been dealing with safeguarding in all its implications for many years."

Start Quote

Without the participation of all the dioceses a 'National Audit' was not possible so the analysis was stopped”

End Quote Catholic Church statement

Archbishop Conti's letter also addresses allegations of abuse at the Benedictine school at Fort Augustus.

He said the school was not "under the jurisdiction" of the church in Scotland because of its position as a Benedictine community.

He insisted, however, that this would not have prevented him from acting if the allegations had been brought to him as the senior church figure in the area.

Archbishop Conti added: "If any of these allegations had been made to me while I was Bishop of Aberdeen from 1977 to 2002, I would have alerted the proper authorities to them."

A statement from the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "Archbishop Conti's letter refers to a decision taken in 2011 by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland to commission an independent academic analysis of statistics relating to abuse and allegations of abuse over a 60 year period from 1952 to 2012.

"This project, with the cooperation of each of the eight dioceses in Scotland, started and ran until 2012, at which time, the then President of the Conference, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, withdrew from the project.

"Without the participation of all the dioceses a 'National Audit' was not possible so the analysis was stopped."

Pointing out that the Bishops' Conference decided in 2013 to publish audits by the National Safeguarding Office, it added: "The Church remains willing to engage in any process which allows lessons to be learned and survivors to be supported."

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