Safeguarding in Scotland: McLellan Commission Report

A summary of the McLellan Report on Safeguarding in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland

The Report of the McLellan Commission, A Review of the Current Safeguarding Policies, Procedures and Practice within the Catholic Church in Scotland, was published on 18 August 2015. This comprised one of the three safeguarding initiatives[1] announced by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, on 24 November 2013. The Commission was chaired by the Very Revd Dr Andrew McLellan CBE, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland from 2002 until 2009; it was given a remit “to review all aspects of Safeguarding policy, procedure and practice within the Catholic Church in Scotland, and to make recommendations for improvement that will assist the church in being a safe place for all”.

The Commission was interdenominational and consisted of senior figures from a variety of agencies. Among others, its membership included Ranald Mair, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Safeguarding Committee, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, a Senator of the College of Justice from March 2000 until 2013, and Malcolm Graham, Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland.

In addition to making a critical evaluation of existing systems and arrangements, the Commission was to meet with the full range of interested parties within and beyond the Catholic Church, including the survivors of abuse, and to listen to expert opinion on best practice. The evaluation of the effectiveness of safeguarding within the Church was to include, inter alia:

  • a critical assessment of the Catholic Safeguarding Service;
  • the wider aspects of culture and governance of relevance;
  • the effectiveness of the Catholic Church in Scotland in promoting awareness; and
  • ownership of safeguarding as a core part of its life, work and teaching.

Publication of the report was accompanied by a Press Release from the Scottish Catholic Media Office which states that the Catholic Bishops of Scotland have welcomed the report and accepted its recommendations in full. Speaking at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Archbishop of Glasgow and president of the Bishops’ Conference for Scotland, Philip Tartaglia, offered a “profound” apology to victims of “criminal and sinful” abuse within the Catholic Church in Scotland and said, here, that the Church is “pained and shamed” by incidents of abuse that have taken place within it. Links to the report and background material are on the McLellan Commission website.

The Report’s conclusions

The eight principal conclusions of the Report are as follows:

  1. Support for the survivors of abuse must be an absolute priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland in the field of safeguarding. The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland should make a public apology to all survivors of abuse within the Church.
  2. The “Awareness and Safety” manual should be completely revised or rewritten.
  3. There must be some external scrutiny and independence in the safeguarding policies and practices of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
  4. Effectiveness and improvement must be measured at every level of safeguarding in the Church.
  5. A consistent approach to safeguarding is essential: consistent across different parts of Scotland and consistent across different parts of the Church.
  6. Justice must be done, and justice must be seen to be done, for those who have been abused and for those against whom allegations of abuse are made.
  7. The priority of undertaking regular high-quality training and continuous professional development in safeguarding must be understood and accepted by all those involved in safeguarding at every level.
  8. The Catholic Church in Scotland must set out a theology of safeguarding which is coherent and compelling.

On the difficult question of the standard required for proof of guilt in relation to internal disciplinary proceedings, the Report concludes as follows:

  • “For the avoidance of doubt, the Catholic Church in Scotland should take legal advice as to the standards of proof applicable to internal disciplinary processes, outwith the formal criminal justice system, when they are dealing with cases involving a member of the clergy of the Catholic Church in Scotland who is alleged to have abused a child or vulnerable adult (paragraph 4.8).”
  • “The Church should introduce formal processes, underpinned by canon law, for addressing the protection of children: not just from those convicted ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ of abuse, but also from those against whom there is sufficient evidence ‘on the balance of probabilities’ to sustain an allegation of inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour (paragraph 4.14).”


The BBC reports Dr McLellan as saying:

“The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland should make a public apology to all survivors of abuse within the church … An apology must be made in a way that is unmistakeable and unequivocal.”


“The Bishops have said from the outset that they will accept our recommendations. That means that three things will happen:

  • First and most important a beginning will be made to heal the hurt and address the anger which so many survivors feel;
  • Second, the Catholic Church in Scotland will begin to confront a dark part of its past and find some healing for itself; and
  • Third, a significant step will be taken in restoring public credibility for the Catholic Church.”

However, some of the abuse survivors have expressed criticism of the report and the Archbishop’s apology, in the BBC report above, the Express and elsewhere.

[1] The other initiatives were: the immediate publication of all Diocesan Safeguarding Audits from 2006-2012, giving a statistical breakdown of reported safeguarding incidents during those years; and a statistical review of all historic cases of abuse from 1947-2005.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Safeguarding in Scotland: McLellan Commission Report" in Law & Religion UK, 19 August 2015,

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