Pilgrim Companions: Assimilating the IICSA Reports

In autumn 2020, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its investigation reports into the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Brendan Callaghan SJ is Chaplain for Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy.

In October 2016, at the Commissioning of the ARCIC-III bishops, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby spoke of their Churches as being Pilgrim Companions. October and November 2020 saw the publication by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) of its reports on the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and on the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. The reports themselves do not make comparisons across the Churches, but in the spirit of being Pilgrim Companions, and at a little distance from the more immediate reactions to the publication of the two reports, it is instructive to explore what lessons might be learnt from what the Inquiry found to be common across the Churches.

In line with the overall remit of IICSA, the focus of the hearings was to ‘examine the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse’. Given the scale of abuse and the inappropriate institutional responses, the two reports are inevitably weighted towards the critical. Each report includes detailed descriptions of the Church-as-organised-institution, the complexities of which provide contexts for understanding some of what might otherwise be incomprehensible. But even allowing for these complexities, IICSA is severely critical of how each Church responded to allegations of abuse, and of the limited extent to which each cooperated with the work of IICSA, highlighting in particular the response of the Holy See: ‘Their lack of cooperation passes understanding.’ While the Recommendations in particular point to what needs to be done, the descriptive material does touch on and acknowledge what has already been done and what is currently being done.
Both Reports begin with selected and harrowing accounts of the experience of some of those abused. This approach helps to ensure that the voices of victims and survivors do not get lost once again as they have been so often in the past. One of the recurring themes in both reports is the inability of those in positions of responsibility and leadership really to hear what has been and is still being said by people who have been affected by abuse. The Pen Portraits opening each report help the reader to hear these voices, and so to keep aware of the real people involved.

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