|Monsignor Tony Anatrella. Report says the church told prelates that decision should be made by victims and their families|
The policy was first reported by a veteran Vatican journalist at Catholic news website Crux, who cited a presentation given by French Monsignor Tony Anatrella.
Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, also authored a training document for new bishops released by Church authorities last week, in which similar guidelines are laid out.
“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” his document states, according to a citation in the Guardian.
Victim-support groups have reacted with fury to the revelation, according to news agency UPI.
Crux adds that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors — a major body created by Pope Francis last year to establish “best practices” for the church in its battle against child abuse — was not involved in the training process.
|Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe says detectives should test the accuracy of allegations and evidence with an open mind while supporting the complainant|
Victims of child sexual abuse have reacted furiously to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s call for police, at first hearing, not to believe the accounts of those alleging they have been abused.
The Metropolitan police commissioner’s comments were in direct contrast with advice issued two years ago by the police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which said that believing victims of sexual abuse should be “institutionalised” within the service.
After years of campaigners fighting to change police culture and end the scepticism of officers towards victims of sexual abuse, many reacted angrily to the public statements by Hogan-Howe, which some said were timed to cover his back and secure the commissioner’s new contract.
Lucy Duckworth of Minister & Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (Mascas) said on Thursday: “We are absolutely outraged and deeply saddened that he has fallen into line with the many people and institutions who are trying to push back against the change in culture which was in the victim’s favour.
“It is an irresponsible thing for a man in his position to say. Not only for those who have been abused, but because those who do abuse will be encouraged to think they will be able to continue their activity and get away with it.”
Duckworth, who said the shift in culture towards believing victims had led to thousands coming forward, accused Hogan-Howe of making damaging public statements based on no evidence in order to protect himself and his job.
“He is making comments to deflect from the real issues and covering his own back, and in doing so, doing a great deal of damage to survivors,” she said.
Hogan-Howe, writing in the Guardian, said the policy of telling detectives to automatically believe people who claim to have suffered rape or sexual abuse could be dropped as a result of fallout from the Operation Midland inquiry into allegations of a murderous Westminster paedophile gang.
He accepted that there would be an “emotional impact” on victims if the policy of automatic belief were dropped, but said: “This is a more neutral way to begin than saying we should believe victims and I believe it better describes our impartial mindset.”
Liz Kelly, a professor of sexual violence at London Metropolitan University, said no one had ever asked the police to believe victims without question or professional investigations.
“For several decades, research and practice has shown that too many police approached reports of sexual violence through a lens of scepticism,” she said. “This was what we sought to challenge and change – that the police take seriously the possibility that thoughtful and skilful investigation may provide evidence that supports an accusation.
“And more than this, that throughout they should treat complainants with respect and dignity. These principles are not and should not be read as ‘unconditional belief’ – they are the basis of professional policing in a social democracy.”
After a series of scandals over many years, in which officers have not believed victims of rape, and sexual offences have been no crimed – where police decide that no crime took place – policing shifted along with prosecutors and attempted to embrace a culture in which those who allege sexual abuse are listened to and believed when they turn up at police stations.
This was underlined and emphasised in 2014 by Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, who said: “The police need to institutionalise a culture of believing the victim. Every time. It really is that simple.”
Andi Lavery, a survivor who runs the White Flowers Alba victims’ group in Scotland, said Hogan-Howe was covering up for the failures of his officers in one high-profile inquiry.
“His force’s ineptitude … and a kneejerk, selfish, face-saving exercise in job preservation, may cause further harm to thousands of genuine victims of horrific abuse,” Lavery said.
“I suggest what is needed is a conversation between survivors like myself and others with the police and home secretary about how to take this serious matter forward.
“We can never ever dismiss a failed child or adult survivor, but also realise innocents are falsely accused. The treatment of Lord Bramall has caused me shame as a survivor. We must address child abuse instead of perpetually reacting to it.”
Gabrielle Shaw, the chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “When a person reports any type of crime, we expect the police to be empathetic, professional, open minded and to take the allegation and investigation seriously.
“Child abuse is no different. Abusers often tell their victims they won’t be believed in the hope they will stay silent. That is why it is so important for survivors to know that police will listen with respect and empathy and investigate thoroughly, however long ago the crime took place.”
The comments by Hogan-Howe come as many institutions and individuals face public scrutiny during hearings at the Goddard inquiry into institutional child sexual abuse.