THE Catholic Church and BBC Radio Scotland have clashed over claims of a secret fund set up to pay compensation, to victims of sexual abuse by priests. The row marked a new low in relations between the media and Scottish church leaders, already strained after the handling of the Bishop Roderick Wright affair. Leading clergy said a BBC Radio Scotland report claiming that the church used a Channel Islands based insurance company to pay out compensation to victims was inaccurate, and criticised the BBC for its handling of the story.
They insisted that the Catholic National Mutual fund was simply a standard employers' liability insurance policy.
The church in Scotland also criticised the way the BBC approached it for a response to the story, claiming the BBC gave it just two hours to respond. It released the text of a letter written by the church, yesterday to BBC Scotland, which began: "The Catholic Church in Scotland will not respond to the whimsical needs of the media. We will not participate in media games," said the letter from Father Tom Connelly, spokesman for the church in Scotland.
But a BBC Scotland spokesman said: "We stand by our story 100 per cent. In the early 1990s, Catholic National Mutual offered specific liability cover to shareholders on payment of additional premiums, specifically to cover physical and sex abuse claims. "Our story clearly indicates that the Catholic Church is insured for this contingency."
And, he added: "Effectively a fund does exist - it is a fund triggered by a policy against which a claim is made." The BBC said Catholic National Mutual had handled compensation claims since the early 1990s. But church spokesmen in England and Scotland said that Catholic National Mutual was an insurance company set up in 1979, based in Guernsey for cost reasons, which handled property and liability insurance, and provided employers' and public liability cover for diocesan trustees. The Catholic Media Office in London said in a statement: "The policy has standard commercial wording and there is no exclusion of any claim against the Trustees arising out of sexual abuse."
A statement from the church in Scotland said that as far as an individual abuser was concerned, abuse was a "criminal act" and public liability cover would provide no protection.