SCOTLAND’S most senior Catholic Archbishop shocked a congregation with a profound apology to victims of abuse within the Church.

Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia arrived unannounced to take yesterday’s 1pm mass at St Andrew’s Cathedral and offered a heartfelt declaration in a first step towards “healing” for victims, following the release of the McLellan Commission report.

At times Tartaglia struggled to hold back his emotions as he delivered his powerful statement in front of about 100 people in the congregation who had turned up for the lunchtime mass.

He said: “As President of the Bishops’ Conference and on behalf of all the Bishops of Scotland I want to offer a profound apology to all those who have been harmed and who have suffered in any way as a result of actions by anyone within the Catholic Church.

“Child abuse is an horrific crime. That this abuse should have been carried out within the Church, and by priests, takes that abuse to another level. Such actions are inexcusable and intolerable.

“The harm the perpetrators of abuse have caused is first and foremost to their victims, but it extends beyond them, to their families and friends, as well as the Church and society.

“I would like to assure the survivors of abuse that the Catholic Bishops of Scotland are shamed and pained by what you have suffered.

“We say sorry. We ask forgiveness.”

The Archbishop was supported by Bishop Joseph Toal, of Motherwell, responsible for safeguarding in the Catholic Church, as well as Bishop Bill Nolan, of Galloway, and Bishop Hugh Gilbert, of Aberdeen.

Retired former Archbishop Mario Conti, formerly of Glasgow, and retired Bishop Maurice Taylor, formerly of Galloway, were also in attendance.

TV crews lined the aisles to broadcast the apology, which victims of abuse have waited decades to hear. Tartaglia added an apology to those who had found the Church’s response slow, unsympathetic or uncaring and said the church would reach out to them.

The Archbishop said the Church was committed to providing victims with justice and healing, adding: “We recognise the trauma and pain that victims and survivors of abuse have suffered.

“We will act on every recommendation [in the McLellan report] and redouble our efforts to ensure that safeguarding standards are as high as possible.”

His words received a mixed reaction, some believing it was too little, too late, while others hoped those who had lost their faith in the wake of scandals, such as that involving Cardinal Keith O’Brien, would now return to the Church. Cardinal O’Brien, former leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, stepped down in February 2013 after admitting sexual misconduct.

Congregation member Eddie Kelly, 70, from Croftfoot, Glasgow, said: “I didn’t know this was happening today. It was a surprise to turn up and hear that.

“But I am absolutely delighted it has finally come. It was great to hear it. It was adequate. It’s been a long time coming.”

Kathleen Thompson, 65, said she found the Archbishop’s statement “very moving” but agreed that the apology was not before time.

“He was so totally humble and ashamed of what the Church has hidden for years,” she said. “I felt as if he himself was feeling the shame on behalf of the Church. People are just so stunned that this was allowed to happen and by priests we trust.”

Avril Kelly, 75, from Cumbernauld, also felt the apology should have come much sooner.

She said: “There was sincerity on the Archbishop’s face. You felt as if it was a real apology. Hopefully it will be some comfort to those victims.

“That’s why so many people have lapsed in the practice of their faith ... because of this happening. They are bewildered and confused. We do believe in forgiveness, but also openness.

“I don’t know how those victims have survived. Perhaps they will find some peace that it will never happen again.”

Fellow parishioner Theresa Zanieri, 72, added: “What happened with Cardinal O’Brien left us flabbergasted. We felt let down. We all felt let down. We couldn’t believe it. A lot of people left the Church after that.”

Another congregation member, who refused to be named, said he thought the Archbishop’s apology was “very sincere”.

He added: “I think it had to be sincere given the gravity of the situation and in light of the way the Catholic Church had responded to it in the first place. I’m glad it was made and that it might offer some relief to the many victims.”

And another added: “The victims have to come first in all of this. That’s the most important thing. It’s terrible, but I am sure the Catholic Church is only the start of it. It’s everywhere, in every Church and even in Parliament.”

Tartaglia renewed the Church’s commitment to its programme of safeguarding.

He insisted the Bishops of Scotland have agreed unanimously to accept all the recommendations of the the McLellan Commission in full.

This weekend, more than 100,000 leaflets will be distributed to the 500 Catholic parishes across Scotland. They contain information on the findings of the commission, stressing the Church’s willingness to act, and the Archbishop’s apology.

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