Panorama fails to expose true issues of church sex abuse, says survivors group

The chairperson and founder of the group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, Margaret Kennedy, has said that the BBC Panorama documentary attacking the Catholic Church over child sexual abuse was marred by sensationalism and missed many of the real issues – including the plight of women victims.

She says that a Vatican cover-up of the scandal is “undoubted”, but that the details of this are unclear and the main emphasis needs to be on practical action to change the situation.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper yesterday (2 October 2006), Ms Kennedy declared: “Panorama failed to prove that the Vatican document Crimen Sollitation was solely responsible for the worldwide cover-up of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. The fact that bishops and priests may have used the directive - on the ‘seal of confession’ - to justify a cover-up was not the fault of the document.

She went on: “A more useful discussion could have been had around clericalism, with the attendant misuse of power which aims to maintain ‘the bonds of brotherhood’ at all costs. The cover-up is not in doubt and goes right back to the Vatican, though how it was/is enforced and maintained remains unclear.”

Margaret Kennedy added: “Panorama also used tabloid tactics in using survivors' stories purely for effect rather than to support their thesis. There was bias towards male survivors and an omission of female victims' stories. Nor was the cover-up of sexual abuse and exploitation of women who seek the help of clergy addressed.”

“We need to move from sensationalist journalism to a more perceptive understanding of the processes that allowed sexual abuse by the clergy to continue,” says the campaigner. “We also need to press the Catholic Church to develop pastoral care for clergy victims.”

According to Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, “here in the UK, the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults has no budget for the development of support services; they are not even in its aims and objectives.”

Ms Kennedy adds: “No Diocese has a budget for this work either. While we still clamour for honesty and explanations for clerical abuse from the Catholic Church, we are also concerned about the abandonment of victims in the present moment.”

Some in the Catholic hierarchies in England and Wales and Scotland were unhappy about aspects of a hard-hitting ecumenical report on sexual abuse, Time for Action, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) in December 2002. The book was commended by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Ms Kennedy played a major role in it.