The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have appointed the former Chief Crown Prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang cases as the Chair of their new safeguarding agency. The appointment of Nazir Afzal as the Chair of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) will be formally announced at an online press conference on the morning of Tuesday May 18.
Mr Afzal has served as the Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England and Director in London, as well as the Chief Executive of the Police and Crime Commissioners. During a 24-year career Mr Afzal has prosecuted many of the most high profile criminal cases in the country, advised on many others, and led nationally on legal matters surrounding such topics as violence against women and girls, child sexual abuse, and honour-based violence. He was responsible for bringing sex-traffickers in the Rochdale grooming gang scandal to justice, as well as Stuart Hall, the former television presenter who in 2014 was convicted of multiple sex offences against children.
The bishops will also announce the appointment of Stephen Ashley as the Deputy Chair of the CSSA. Mr Ashley is a former Assistant Chief Constable who authored a Home Office report on the conduct of the police during the investigations into sex offences committed by former television personality Jimmy Savile.
The appointments of Amanda Ellingworth, Wesley Cuell and Dr Jenny Holmes as Non- Executive Directors will also be announced by the bishops. The Board will also be strengthened by the appointment of Bishop Paul Mason of the Bishopric of the Forces as the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, and Fr David Smolira SJ as the Lead Religious. Carol Lawrence, Project Director, will also remain as a Director of the CSSA.
The appointments mean that the bishops are on track to deliver the fully-functioning safeguarding agency within the six months originally envisaged by the Catholic Safeguarding Project.
The agency is being created amid wide-ranging reforms to safeguarding structures within the Church following the recommendations in November by the Elliott Review (see below), with the aim of establishing the highest possible standards.
The agency replaces separate existing structures with a single body with greater regulatory powers across the Catholic Church of England and Wales, extending to all dioceses and associated religious bodies. It has been established as a trading company with independence in its day-to-day operation under the responsibility of a management board and with the powers to ensure that each Church body partnered with the agency is complying with published standards.
The Chair will provide effective leadership and management to the board of the CSSA, and will have responsibility for the governance and strategic direction of the agency. Mr Afzal will work constructively with the chief executive, the board, the Catholic Church, survivor groups and wider stakeholders to ensure that its objectives are fully achieved.
The Non-Executive Directors of the Board will share responsibility for ensuring the long-term success of the agency. They will have oversight of its financial and operational management, and its sustainability and will contribute to planning and implementing its future strategic direction.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “I am delighted to give my full support to the appointment of Mr Nazir Afzal as the first Chair of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency.
“Mr Afzal brings to this role the freshness and vast experience required in order to make the establishment of the CSSA a truly significant step change in the work of Safeguarding in the Catholic Church.
“Mr Afzal has a proven reputation for being a champion of victims and survivors of abuse in many different institutions and settings. In the response of the Catholic Church, published last week, to the findings of IICSA, westated that ‘key’ to the ‘heartfelt change’ we are seeking is ‘greater listening to the voice of victims and survivors of abuse’. I have no doubt that CSSA, under Mr Afzal’s chairmanship, will hold us to that undertaking.
“Mr Afzal’s firm and proven conviction that public confidence is created by clear, just and well scrutinised processes will also be at the heart of the contribution he will make. His appointment is a bold and timely step. I thank all those who have worked so hard in the implementation of the Recommendations of the November 2020 Elliott Report among which is the establishment of the CSSA. The appointment of Mr Nazir Afzal is a pivotal moment in this needed development.”
Nazir Afzal, the newly-appointed Chair of CSSA, said: “I’m delighted that the Catholic Church has taken what some might consider a brave and bold decision in appointing me as the first ever independent Chair of the CSSA board.
“I’ve spent three decades responding to harms in every community and institution. I learnt that victims have been failed by every institution who were responsible for safeguarding them. I also understood how reputation was thought more important than exposing those who abuse. Nowhere was safe. Victims were not only abused by perpetrators but then again by those who should have protected them and acted to stop it. The effects of abuse are lifelong and often undetected with victims beset by feelings of shame, guilt and fear. That had to change.
The Catholic Church has recognised the failures of the past and the need to put things right. This is what attracted me to the role. To make a difference, you have to act differently. It usually takes great courage to do so. When I helped deliver justice to thousands of victims of abuse, I realised that they were the most courageous of all.”
Two members of Catholic Survivors England, who participated in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), said in a joint statement: “We welcome the appointment of Nazir Afzal as Chair of the new CatholicSafeguarding Standards Agency and are very encouraged by his track record with victims and survivors. A seismic shift in culture is needed within the Church‘s safeguarding processes and it’s interaction with victims and survivors. We hope that Nazir and the new board will be able to make the changes which are so urgently needed.”
The bishops in November accepted all the recommendations made by the Elliott Review, a “root-and-branch” examination of safeguarding in the Catholic Church, and wish to adopt them without delay. In January, the bishops invited Mrs Lawrence, the Financial Director of the Diocese of Shrewsbury, to take up the six-month post of Project Implementation Director with immediate effect to ensure all of the improvements are fully and swiftly implemented.
Mrs Lawrence sat on the panel of the Elliott Review and was a key member of the team that devised the proposed changes.
Soon afterwards, the bishops appointed Dr Edward Morgan, a barrister and an internationally- respected expert in The Code of Canon Law, to oversee the establishment of a National Tribunal Service as part of wide-ranging development of safeguarding structures and processes in the Church.
The National Tribunal Service will deal principally with regulatory cases, including clergy discipline. Providing a centralised process of adjudication, it will seek to address concerns of interested parties with enhanced transparency and due process. The establishment of the Service is part of a suite of measures which will see the transfer from existing structures and the creation of the single Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency with the power to enforce uniformly high standards of protection.
The bishops are adopting a “One Church” strategy which will place safeguarding in a comprehensive model covering religious institutions and other areas of ecclesial life as well as diocesan parishes and schools and other settings. Father Smolira, a former Jesuit provincial, will ensure the needs of religious congregations are met as the new “standards-based” safeguarding structure is established.
The process of implementing the work of the Elliott Review will involve working closely with survivors, dioceses, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, safeguarding coordinators, the lay faithful and others to fulfill the recommendations made in the Elliott Review.
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