PUBLIC SECTOR: Catholic Church guidelines to tackle child sex scandals

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is to put in place its first set of PR guidelines to tackle child sex abuse scandals.

The guidelines are due to be in place within weeks and come as the church globally battles to improve its reputation following the recent paedophilia scandal in the US.

The Catholic Church of England and Wales communications director Mark Morley is co-ordinating the project, reporting to the church's media committee.

Church head Cardinal Cormack Murphy O'Connor is also said to be keeping a close eye on how the church handles future scandals.

The details of the guidelines are expected to be similar to the way the church has handled British media interest in the current US scandal.

This strategy was formulated late last month by Morley, chairman of the media committee and Bishop of Portsmouth Crispian Hollis and general secretary Andrew Summersgill.

This included an emphasis on transparency to avoid a deterioration of trust in the domestic church and promotion of its recently created policing system, the Church Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults.

The office was set up in January following an inquiry by the church and headed by Lord Nolan, which called for tougher vetting procedures and the promotion of good practice. Between 1995 and 1999, 21 of the church's 5,600 priests in England and Wales were convicted of child abuse.

The US scandal centres not only on allegations of sexual abuse by priests but also that senior figures in the church failed to act.

The Pope and US cardinals met in Rome last month, a move that Morley says caught his team by surprise.

A request to the Vatican is likely to be submitted to ask that the Catholic Communications Service should be forewarned of any future announcements of a similar scale.

Leader, p8.

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