Bishop faces police probe as Church is investigated in UK for first time over abuse claims
Scotland Yard’s paedophile unit is investigating the Catholic Church in the UK over allegations of child sex abuse. The Catholic Church has already been scrutinised in a series of inquiries into similar allegations overseas, but it is the first time that such an investigation has been mounted in the UK.
Exaro can also reveal that a Catholic bishop has been drawn into the police investigation. We are not publishing his name for legal reasons, but he is being investigated over claims that he sexually abused children and that he protected priests who were active paedophiles.
In addition, detectives are investigating other Catholic institutions, according to well-placed sources. It is the first time that a criminal investigation into child sexual abuse in the UK has extended in the Catholic Church beyond isolated cases of individual priests, churches or schools.
It is understood that police have not so far formally contacted the Catholic Church about their investigation.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales said: “I am not aware of any generic police investigation into sexual abuse linked to the Catholic Church in the UK. Similarly, I am not aware of any investigation into a particular bishop. However, were there to be an investigation, clearly we would co-operate.”
Westminster Cathedral is the “mother” church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales, although it is not itself the focus of the police investigation. The ceiling of the cathedral’s Lady Chapel is pictured above.
The Vatican has been swamped by crises across the globe over sexual abuse. Ireland, America, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland are among the countries that have seen major investigations into child abuse linked to the Catholic Church.
However, police have in general not conducted across-the-board investigations. Ireland, for example, held an inquiry into abuse at children’s institutions – mostly allegations surrounding 60 residential schools run by the Catholic Church.
It found that that Ireland’s institutions had effectively treated children as prisoners who were often subjected to rape and beatings.
In America, police investigations into sexual abuse have led to hundreds of criminal prosecutions against individuals – including many priests – and civil lawsuits against many dioceses.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $600 million settlement with more than 500 abuse victims.
Dioceses in America have paid an estimated $3 billion to settle claims. Eight of them even declared bankruptcy.
Australia last week started a national inquiry – ordered by the prime minister, Julia Gillard – into child sex abuse in religious, state, educational and sporting institutions across the country.
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), said: “Our former colonies – and countries that are in a far worse economic state than we are – have undertaken serious investigations, inquiries and, in the case of Australia, royal commissions. It is about time the mother country took a lead. So, the time is right for a royal commission in the UK.”
In 2001, Pope John Paul II gave broad oversight of the Vatican’s handling of abuse cases to Joseph Ratzinger, then a cardinal. Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, but stepped down in February.
In the UK, the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is investigating the Catholic Church in parallel with other high-profile cases examining leading political figures and celebrities.
It is another sign of the huge growth in police activity aimed at tackling child sexual exploitation since Jimmy Savile, the late BBC presenter, was exposed as a paedophile last October. That case prompted Scotland Yard’s ‘Operation Yewtree’.
The Met’s investigation into the Catholic Church follows on from inquiries carried out in the wake of Savile’s exposure.
Scotland Yard is also investigating allegations – under ‘Operation Fernbridge’ – that boys in care in Richmond, south-west London were sexually abused between 1977 and 1983 initially at Grafton Close children’s home and then at Elm Guest House nearby in Barnes. The first charges under this operation are expected within weeks.
Last week, Exaro revealed that the commander overseeing these investigations, Peter Spindler, had left the Met in a surprise move to join HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, an official police watchdog.