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Church row over apology to abused

By Andrew Denholm, Political Correspondent, The Scotsman, 02/12/2004

A PUBLIC apology by the First Minister to children abused while in care was yesterday overshadowed by a row over whether the Catholic Church should also express regret.

In a formal statement to the Scottish Parliament, Jack McConnell made a "sincere and full apology on behalf of the people of Scotland" to those who had suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse while in residential care.

Privately, Mr McConnell believes the Catholic Church should also apologise because many of the victims were housed at homes run by Catholic orders.

"This is a matter for the Catholic Church, but the First Minister has given a very clear lead and I am sure the parliament would welcome a full apology from them," said a source close to Mr McConnell.

However, the Catholic Church yesterday insisted it had already apologised for the abuse and accused the Scottish Executive of "having to play catch-up".

In a statement issued in 2001, Archbishop O'Brien, who as leader of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland was head of the church, said: "I apologise unreservedly to those who, over the years, have suffered any form of abuse at the hands of those representing the Catholic Church."

Some 500 former care home residents in Scotland are currently suing Catholic orders for abuse they claim to have suffered dating back to the 1930s.

The First Minister's statement followed a petition to the Scottish Parliament by Chris Daly, an alleged abuse victim, calling for an apology and an inquiry on behalf of those who had been abused in church and state-run children's homes. Mr McConnell yesterday met the first part of his demands, but the Executive has not supported calls for an inquiry.

Instead, Peter Peacock, the education minister, will appoint an independent expert to investigate the regulations applying to care homes during the years of the alleged abuse.

"Those children, adults today, deserve full recognition by us of what happened to them then," Mr McConnell said yesterday.

"That is why I offer a sincere and full apology on behalf of the people of Scotland, to those who were subject to abuse and neglect, who did not receive the level of love, care and support that they deserved and who have coped with that burden all of their lives."

SNP Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon gave an "unreserved" welcome to Mr McConnell's statement.

However, Tory deputy leader Annabel Goldie called for an independent inquiry into past abuse to evaluate whether the measures put in place over the last ten years had been effective, or whether other measures needed to be taken.

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