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‘I don’t want to make any excuses’

by Fr Jeremy Trood

It was entirely predictable that many of the obituaries of Cormac, Cardinal Murphy- O’Connor should concentrate on child abuse and his role in the scandal which engulfed the Church at the turn of the millennium. When he became Archbishop of Westminster in 2000 he had already been a diocesan bishop for twenty years: mistakes had been made, bad advice had been taken, allegations had not been reported, abusing priests had been reassigned. In front of a camera, in front of a microphone, he could appear hesitant, unsure as to what to say or what to do. Of course he was not alone; he had acted no differently from other bishops, archbishops and indeed cardinals, both in this country and in many others; but he was now prominent, the media had him in their sight. He could so easily have been engulfed, and for a while it looked as if his time in Westminster would end before it had really begun.

That it was not so marks him out as different from so many others. There were no excuses, no hollow promises and no prevarication. He appreciated the seriousness and the scale of the scandal. In his memoirs, ‘An English Spring’, published in 2015 he said ‘I don’t want to make any excuses. I had to bear the shame, for me and for the Church, and try and do something about it’, and he did do something about it. He learnt from his past mistakes and he learnt quickly. He apologised for the errors he had made and was sincere in his contrition.

He also acted. He invited a senior judge, Lord Nolan, to chair an independent committee to carry out a review on child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The report which followed produced a framework for best practise for child protection and the prevention of abuse within the Catholic Church. The Nolan Review recommendations were accepted and implemented in full. These policies and procedures, together with the recommendations of the Cumberlege Report, have led to our current ‘One Church Approach’ which provides a safeguarding environment which is robust and provides a model which other hierarchies would do well to follow. In the words of the Cumberlege Report: ‘We have done our utmost to help those in Christ’s Ministry to safeguard the vulnerable and weak, to be fair and just to those who have been abused and to be united in our belief that the love and care entrusted to us should never be betrayed’.

Today, nearly twenty years after the depth of the abuse scandal became apparent, the culture of safeguarding is ingrained in the fabric of the Church in England and Wales. That it is so is, in no small measure, the legacy of Cormac, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor.

Fr Jeremy Trood is Episcopal Vicar for Safeguarding for the Diocese of Westminster.

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