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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Holy See

11th February 2015

Clerical child sex abuse: making progress but not there yet

Synod on the Family Prayer Vigil. Image: © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

The issue of sex abuse of children by priests has accompanied me throughout my mission here since I arrived in Rome in August 2011. As I was preparing to take up the role, it was clear to me that nothing had done more in recent years to damage the credibility of the Holy See, and to undermine its values-based message, in the UK and elsewhere, than its failure to understand the seriousness of the problem, and to grasp the need to do so much more to stop it. Despite Pope Benedict’s meetings with victims on his visits, including in the UK and Malta, and the recognition by some within the Church that much more needed to be done, the collective response still appeared to be one of denial.

There has been so much progress since. In 2011, for the first time, the Holy See asked all bishops’ conferences around the world to draw up guidelines for handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics (96% have now done so). In 2012, the Pontifical Gregorian University organised a landmark conference that listened to victims and focused on what the Holy See had to do to respond to their demands. Pope Francis established a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in March 2014, and last July met victims in the Vatican and heard their stories. As the Pope wrote last week in a letter to Church leaders around the world, the only proper response is to focus on the victims and their needs: “priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors”.

The progress is welcome. But it is clear that it needs to go further, and faster. There is no room for complacency. I have sometimes been told that this is essentially an historical problem and that now that better controls on the selection of candidates for the priesthood have been implemented, it should not reoccur. That’s neither the right answer, nor the right message, as members of the Commission including Peter Saunders, an abuse victim and CEO of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, and Baroness Hollins from the UK have told me. So much more needs to be done, to help those victims who are still coming forward, and to ensure that future generations of children are safe. It is good that the Pope has called on all Church leaders, especially diocesan bishops, to provide “close and complete cooperation with the Commission for the Protection of Minors”. That is the least that they can do.

4 comments on “Clerical child sex abuse: making progress but not there yet

  1. A priest abusing a child is something that always was beyond my imagination. When I first learned about it, in the Poland of the eighties, I was shocked toi the deepest recesses of my soul. With my last saved money, I travelled to the Vatican, to ask, how this was possible. I was not treated well. I went back to Poland, disappointed. I always wanted to be a priest, because priesthood was synonymous for me with being holy. But the Church authorities, always, told me that “God didn’t call you.” In the Seminary where I studied, one of our professors was a gay come-out-of-the-closet. I complained to Church authorities, since I knew that there was a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Again, I was the one foud to be “unholy.” When I protested that one of our nuns was funding three thousand abortions for the poor women, in Detroit, again, the authoritiews turned against me! I could go on for hours the things that I have suffered for asking questions! But it suffices to illustrate why we are today suffering a massive antiwitness in our Church! We kill good vocations and favor the worst, as long as the candidates sing, dance, and have a good voice! No spiritual life is required anymore!

  2. Your Excellency, Thank you for your intelligent and balanced assessment with which I concur. The Holy See has consistently stressed the need for the healing of victims to be the priority, but I am afraid this has yet to result in much action from Bishops’ Conferences who still tend to see the problem in terms of liability and scandal. When they do think of help for victims of clerical abuse they think in narrow terms of some talking therapy. All the studies show that this is insufficient, even from a psychological point of view for treating the cases where there is serious PTSD, as there often is. I have launched a ministry of psychological and spiritual healing for abuse victims -please see the above website- but receive no help financially from the Bishops, indeed they are reluctant in some cases even to publicise it. The Bishops’ Conference representative told me that because victims groups are very vociferous it “isn’t the right time” to have such a ministry. As a result we fundraise to carry out our own work. In the US, where the ministry was founded, the same problem occurs. It seems as it the bishops do not want people banding together in case they recover more memories or correlate stories. If you would be interested in learning more about our approach, I would be very happy to give you more information. I am anxious to spread word of our healing programme as widely as possible.

    Yours sincerely,

    Fr Dominic Allain (International Pastoral Director, Grief to Grace Ministries)

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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