The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have appointed a former Chief Crown Prosecutor as the Chair of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA).
Nazir Afzal, a practicing Muslim, served as the Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England from 2011-2015 and chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners from 2016-2017. He has prosecuted numerous high profile criminal cases and consulted on legal matters in areas including violence against women and girls, child sexual abuse, and so-called “honour” killings.
“Mr Afzal brings to this role the freshness and vast experience required in order to make the establishment of the CSSA a truly significant step change in the work of Safeguarding in the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. He described the appointment of Afzal as “a bold and timely step.” In a statement from the bishops’ safeguarding project, Afzal spoke of his credentials:
I’ve spent three decades responding to harms in every community and institution. I learnt that victims have been failed by every institution who were responsible for safeguarding them. I also understood how reputation was thought more important than exposing those who abuse. Nowhere was safe. Victims were not only abused by perpetrators but then again by those who should have protected them and acted to stop it. The effects of abuse are lifelong and often undetected with victims beset by feelings of shame, guilt and fear. That had to change.
He said, “The Catholic Church has recognised the failures of the past and the need to put things right. This is what attracted me to the role.”
Afzal’s appointment will be formally announced on Tuesday. The bishops will also announce the appointment the CSSA of Deputy Chair Stephen Ashley and Non-Executive Directors Amanda Ellingworth, Wesley Cuell, and Dr Jenny Holmes. Bishop Paul Mason of the Bishopric of the Forces will serve as Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, with Fr David Smolira SJ as Lead Religious.
The establishment of a safeguarding agency comes in the wake of an extremely critical report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse released in 2020. The report studied “the extent of institutional failings by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales to protect children from sexual abuse” and examined the Church’s procedures for protecting minors from abuse.
The CBCEW commissioned safeguarding expert Ian Elliot to review safeguarding procedures in light of the IICSA report. The bishops received the Elliot Report in November and immediately began to implement its recommendations.
Two members of Catholic Survivors England issued a joint statement welcoming Afzal’s appointment, saying they “are very encouraged by his track record with victims and survivors.” But they insisted “a seismic shift in culture is needed within the Church‘s safeguarding processes and it’s interaction with victims and survivors.”
They said, “We hope that Nazir and the new board will be able to make the changes which are so urgently needed.”