Cardinal O’Brien friend on church sex abuse panel

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THE churchman leading an independent inquiry into the Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse cases has defended the inclusion of a friend of disgraced cardinal Keith O’Brien on the commission.

Former Church of Scotland Moderator Andrew McLellan denied the appointment of Bishop Stephen Robson – who was Cardinal O’Brien’s number two in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh – created any conflict of interest.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien pictured with Stephen Robson in 2012. Picture: Greg Macvean

Cardinal Keith O'Brien pictured with Stephen Robson in 2012. Picture: Greg Macvean

Bishop Robson was named yesterday as one of 11 people to join Dr McLellan in reviewing the “safeguarding” policy of the Catholic Church in Scotland to help protect youngsters and vulnerable adults.

The commission, which also includes senior police officers and social workers, will speak to victims in an attempt to create a policy of “no abuse and no cover up” but will not investigate or rule on specific cases.

Bishop Robson was a friend of Cardinal O’Brien’s for 40 years and consecrated by him as Auxiliary Bishop of Edinburgh in May 2012.

The cardinal quit in February last year after allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with four seminarians. He admitted to behaviour “falling below the standards expected of a priest”.

Dr McLellan said he did not believe there was a conflict of interest in Bishop Robson’s appointment. He said: “It is a matter we have talked about in the commission and we all agreed that the advantages of having him on the commission are significant.

“I have no reservations about him being on the commission.”

In a recent interview, Bishop Robson – now Bishop of Dunkeld – said of Cardinal O’Brien: “Never once did he lay a finger on me. I was a friend for 40 years, but I am now beginning to wonder if I ever knew Keith at all.”

The commission, set up by the Catholic Church last year in the wake of the scandal surrounding Cardinal O’Brien, aims to publish a final report in the summer of 2015, but will make recommendations earlier if they encounter matters “which must be acted upon immediately”.

Diocesan Safeguarding Audits from 2006 to 2012, published by the Church, show a total of 46 allegations were reported during that time, of which 55 per cent related to sexual abuse, 19 per cent to physical abuse, 11 per cent were allegations of verbal abuse and 15 per cent were in connection with emotional abuse.

Of those accused, 56 per cent were priests, 22 per cent volunteers, 11 per cent parishioners and the remainder were staff or other people connected to the Church.

There have been no prosecutions in 61 per cent of cases, the Church said, while 15 per cent did lead to prosecution and ten per cent were still under investigation.