Stumbling Blocks to the MacLellan Report


Last month we published an account of the years leading up to the McLellan Report by a distinguished psychologist and former member of the Scottish Catholic Bishops’ reference group on safeguarding.  Here she examines the McLellan Report and finds major stumbling blocks to its recommendations.

Following on from the description of the 21 years leading up to the publication of the McLellan Report on 18th August, I first of all would like to offer my thanks to Rev. Andrew McLellan and his team for such a clear analysis of the difficulties the Catholic Church has faced in progressing a secure approach to safeguarding.

They had a clear remit – to carry out an in-depth examination of the Catholic Church’s safeguarding policies, procedures and practices.  There were many problems highlighted, including the culture of secrecy and cover-up in the past and the experiences of survivors who came forward but didn’t feel they were listened to in many cases.  When examining the results of the 2013 audit of all the Scottish dioceses’ submissions on safeguarding, published in Dec. 2014, some alarming figures emerged.  For example, 102 out of 590 (17%) priests in parishes were not members of the PVG scheme (the scheme for Protecting Vulnerable Adults introduced by the Scottish government in 2011) and only 170 (29%) had undertaken training.  There were also difficulties with regard to volunteers as 4803 of the 9028 listed as working with children or vulnerable adults were not members of the PVG scheme. I.e. (53%).
The report makes eight recommendations, each one sub-divided into very practical directives.  For those who not have time or inclination to read the full report, the recommendations are :-
1 Support for survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority.
2 The policy and practice manual should be revised or rewritten.
3 There must be external scrutiny and independence in policies and practices.
4 Effectiveness and improvement must be measured at every level.
5 A consistent approach must be taken across all parts of Scotland and of the Catholic Church.
6 Justice must be done to all who have been abused and those against whom allegations have been made.
7 All involved in safeguarding must undertake regular high- quality training.
8 Finally, the Catholic Church must set out a theology of safeguarding.

From the above it is clear that the report was very comprehensive in covering all aspects of safeguarding.  This should give us hope that things will improve in the not too distant future. However, there are several major stumbling blocks.
The report highlights difficulties regarding the role of the National Safeguarding Coordinator, stating clearly that she should have the power and the authority to ensure compliance, consistency and improvements at all levels.  What is the difficulty here?  Can it be found in a statement made by Archbishop Cushley to the McLellan Commission : ‘We must be careful that the National Coordinator role does not mean surrendering the authority and responsibility of the Bishop’?

Behind this we come to a major difficulty which emerged back in 1996 when the first report of a working party set up by the bishops to advise them on safeguarding was submitted to the Bishops’ Conference.  The bishops expressed some concern about the appointment of a National Adviser.  It all comes back to the issue of each bishop/archbishop having sole responsibility for his diocese.

It is worth highlighting the paragraph from the McLellan report which illustrates the dilemma:-
‘Moreover it is by no means clear what the authority of the Bishops’ Conference actually means.  Evidence presented to the Commission shows that not all Bishops (if any) agree that the Bishops’ Conference has the authority to lay down policy, practice and procedures that must be followed in all dioceses.  In the written evidence that Archbishop Philip Tartaglia presented to the Commission and the oral evidence he subsequently gave, the Archbishop explained that within the Archdiocese of Glasgow he was the ultimate authority.  This is a problem which must be solved’.
The report goes on to indicate concern that there could be variations in how safeguarding might be carried out in different dioceses, foreseeing that if the professional head of service has no power to ensure national standards of recruitment and training and monitoring, then these aspects could vary in different parts of the country.  The McLellan Commission is clear that the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland should have the authority to lay down the policies, procedures and practices which must be followed to the letter in every diocese.  As the National Coordinator is appointed by the Bishops’ Conference this could begin to throw light on who is responsible for the safeguarding service.  The Commission also recommended that consideration should be given to appointing either a Depute National Safeguarding Coordinator or a small team to assist the Head of Service.
The second main dilemma is the relationship between bishops and religious congregations.  The McLellan Commission met with the Conference of Religious Congregations in Scotland and heard that generally working relationships with regard to safeguarding were good between the dioceses and the religious congregations.  The dilemma arises when members of religious congregations are accused of having harmed children in the past.  Going back to Archbishop Tartaglia’s evidence to the Commission, he made it clear that he was not responsible within his archdiocese for ‘Religious Orders, some Catholic Societies and Associations established as separate Trusts distinct from the Archdiocese’.  The report concludes that if these are communities within the Catholic Church in Scotland which are not under the authority of bishops, it would appear that they are not under the authority of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland’s safeguarding policies.

This raises important questions.  They will no doubt arise once the O’Brien Inquiry gets underway – Susan O’Brien QC will chair the statutory national public inquiry into historical abuse of children in care.  Also, the National Confidential Forum has been advertising in local papers for adults to come forward to share their experiences of being in care anywhere in Scotland.  Both of these bodies are concerned with those children who were brought up in residential homes or were in residential school.  If we have been concerned and ashamed at the abusive actions of some priests in the past then we had better be prepared for what may result from listening to former residents of homes or schools in Scotland.  This will include those run by religious communities.  Of course if allegations are made against a religious priest, brother or sister they will not be abandoned by their communities.  It may bewilder some members of our Church to know that the bishops were quick off the mark to say it had nothing to do with them.
In his capacity as President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Tartaglia said that all the bishops agreed to follow all of the recommendations in the report.  The Commission suggested that to maintain momentum, the Catholic Church should publish an implementation plan within three months setting out action to be taken, clear timescales and accountability.  This is no small ask as it would have to be ready by mid-November.  There also has to be a progress report after 12 months.  This clearly requires a measure of urgency, and new groups to manage setting up these groups.
On 17th September it was decided during a meeting of the bishops’ reference group that as these new groups were being set up there was really no need to continue with the existing reference group.  After being thanked for the work we had carried out since September 2004, we left, wishing Bishop Joe Toal, Monsignor Hugh Bradley, Father Tom Boyle and the National Coordinator Tina Campbell well in the task that lay ahead.


Dr Mary Ross is a Sister of Notre Dame and former Director of the Notre Dame family Centre in Glasgow.  She was awarded the MBE for her services to children and families.


Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.