July 31: Stamping out child abuse

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CHILD abuse has long been the darkest stain on the record and reputation of the Roman Catholic Church.

The shameful practice of covering up this most repellent of crimes, and moving paedophile priests from diocese to diocese rather than reporting them to the police so that they faced the full force of the law, has been deeply damaging to the Church.

Those dark days are, thankfully, past and Pope Francis’s assertion that what he has called the “leprosy” of child abuse within the Church will be stamped out is undoubtedly heartfelt.

Yet there is still much that is disturbing in the new report from the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, notably the increase in the number of perpetrators subject to “covenants of care”, which withdraw them from ministering, up from 384 at the end of 2013 to 462 at the end of 2014. So too is the revelation that in the past year, 16 allegations have been made against priests.

The only possible conclusion to be drawn from these unsettling figures is that there remains within the Church a hard core of individuals who pose a threat to children.

Consequently, the Church needs to redouble its efforts to weed them out, because the profoundly trusting relationship between those of faith and those who minister to them can be exploited by a potential abuser.

The Church and its safeguarding commission deserve credit for confronting this enemy within, and acknowledging both that a problem remains and the failings of the past.

Society as a whole is more aware of the horror of child abuse, and victims – both historical and current – more prepared to come forward than ever before.

The Roman Catholic Church must reflect society’s repugnance at those who would abuse children, and within its own ranks the only possible policy toward them must be one of zero tolerance.

Paying the bills

Fuel prices and profits

CUSTOMERS of British Gas may understandably be infuriated by the announcement that the company had doubled the level of its profits in the first half of the year.

The news comes as Centrica, which owns British Gas, has said it will cut 6,000 jobs, including some in the UK.

Controversy over energy prices has become a seemingly intractable problem, with arguments raging back and forth between suppliers and consumer champions over the levels of profit and savings on wholesale prices not being passed on to customers.

British Gas, like all the energy suppliers, needs to make a profit. Its shareholders and institutional investors would expect no less.

But to those who greet the arrival of fuel bills with trepidation, an increase in profits on this scale suggest that prices are simply too high and not enough is being done to strike a balance of fairness between a company’s need to do well and a customer’s need to stay warm in winter.

British Gas points out quite fairly that it is the only one of the big suppliers to cut its prices twice in a year, but commentators on the energy sector counter with equal validity that the cuts do not reflect the scale of the fall in wholesale prices.

The answer lies with the Competition and Markets Authority, which is considering regulating maximum fuel prices that would see bills frozen or cut for 70 per cent of customers.

Such a move would have the merit of allowing consumers to feel they were getting a fairer deal, and for the suppliers provide a measure of protection from accusations of profiteering.

Rural champions

Celebrating the countryside

TODAY’S opening of the CLA Game Fair at Harewood should be celebrated not only because it is a pleasure to welcome the event back to Yorkshire.

It should be applauded, too, for reminding everybody of the vibrancy of rural life and its importance to those who live in town as well as country.

Over the next three days, the fair will attract huge crowds and give many of those attending a real insight into the workings of the countryside.

For that is what our rural landscape here in Yorkshire is – a working environment as well as a beautiful one, where tradition cohabits comfortably with innovation.

It provides a livelihood for many and plays a vital role in the wider economic health of our region.

Those who work the land and help preserve and safeguard the landscape, deserve the thanks of the many more who enjoy it.

Whatever the weather throws at the fair, it is a chance to celebrate the countryside.

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