Safeguarding in the Catholic Church

Who is responsible for Safeguarding in the Catholic Church? 

Everyone has a responsibility for Safeguarding and promoting the wellbeing of vulnerable people. In England and Wales overall responsibility sits with the Bishops Conference and the Conference of Religious.

How does Safeguarding work across the country?

Following the release of 'Safeguarding with Confidence,' the report of the Cumberlege Commission in 2007, a National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) was established which reported directly to the Conference of Bishops and the Conference of Religious. The Commission had oversight of the work of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), a National Office with responsibility for developing and supporting the implementation of National Policies and Procedures.

Following a review by Ian Elliott in 2020, the NCSC and CSAS have been replaced by a new Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA). The CSSA has oversight from an independent Board of Directors and has an enhanced audit role alongside the previous CSAS roles, advising and supporting Diocesan Safeguarding arrangements. The National Office meets regularly with Safeguarding Co-ordinators and Officers from Dioceses in order to improve consistency of practice and identify learning and development needs.

How does Safeguarding work in the Diocese?

The Bishop is responsible for Safeguarding issues in his Diocese. He delegates responsibility via the Trustees to the Safeguarding
Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee, together with the Bishop, appoint a Safeguarding Co-ordinator, and Safeguarding Officers. The Sub-Committee is accountable to the Bishop and advise him on policy implementation and best practice. The Co-ordinator and Officers report to the Sub-Committee and are accountable to the Bishop via the Sub-Committee.

What is the Safeguarding Sub-Committee?

The Sub-Comittee is a group of independent professional people, appointed by the Bishop, to oversee the implementation of Safeguarding Policies. The membership is made up of people with specific experience and expertise in Safeguarding issues and includes representatives from the Police, Social Care, the Probation Service, relevant Diocesan staff, Parish Safeguarding, the Clergy and Trustees. The Sub-Committee meets regularly to discuss Policies and Procedures, receive reports from the Co-ordinator and Officers and when necessary to discuss investigations and other case work and prepare reports for the Bishop.

What does the Safeguarding Co-ordinator do?

The Co-ordinator manages the Safeguarding function within the Diocese. This includes management of the Safeguarding Officer. In smaller Dioceses there may not be a Safeguarding Officer, in which case the Co-ordinator carries out the responsibilities listed for them.

What does the Safeguarding Officer do?

The Officer carries out the routine administration of the Safeguarding Office which includes the maintenance of Parish files, identity verification and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all employees and volunteers within the Diocese who may have contact with children, young people and/or vulnerable adults. They keep a database for the Diocese and also maintain information on the National Database which is held by CSAS. They are also responsible for training Parish Representatives in the procedures they must follow when volunteers are appointed in the Parish, in best practice in dealing with situations where children and vulnerable adults are present and in what to do if they are concerned about a particular situation or person. They are responsible for referring all abuse allegations to the Statutory Authority (Police) and for working closely with them on such cases to ensure the safety of the public. They report to the Diocesan Safeguarding Commission which then makes recommendations to the Bishop.

What does a Parish Safeguarding Representative do?

The Parish Safeguarding Representative is responsible for: making sure the Parish is aware of the importance of Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults; promoting good and safe practice, including what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour; with their Parish Priest and the Safeguarding Co-ordinator/Officer decide how to administer the National Safeguarding Policies and Procedures within the Parish.

What should I do if I want to become a volunteer?

There are a wide range of “volunteer” roles within each parish, including Parish Safeguarding Representative, Extraordinary Minister of Communion, Youth Group Leader, Catechist, Drama Group Leader, Altar Server and Driver. You should speak to your Parish Safeguarding Representative and Parish Priest. You will have to complete a number of forms and discuss the reasons for wanting to be a volunteer. You will not be able to commence voluntary work until you have completed the application procedures and received a letter of appointment.

What should I do if I think a vulnerable person is at risk or is being abused?

NEVER discuss this with the person who you think is the abuser. If you have witnessed abuse or received an allegation of abuse where a child is in immediate danger you must inform the Statutory Authorities (Police/Social Services). You should then inform the Diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator/Officer that you have done this. If you think there is no immediate danger you must report the allegation to the Co-ordinator/Officer immediately, who will then inform the Statutory Authorities.

If you think that someone is being groomed, discuss the issue with the Diocesan Safeguarding Co-ordinator or Officer who will agree with you what action to take. “Grooming” is a process undertaken by those seeking to perpetrate sexual abuse. This can take months, sometimes years, and will almost inevitably involve grooming of parents/carers. In its early stages, grooming may be misinterpreted as kindness or helpfulness, while latterly it tends to become increasingly coercive and manipulative.