Friday, 21 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Cardinal Nichols' Complacency


Cardinal Vincent Nichols
The Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report | IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The leader of the Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has been severely criticised by an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, for being more concerned with the reputation of the church than with the protection of children.

Nichols was Archbishop of Birmingham between 2000 and 2009 and, although he denies a coverup, was found to have "ignored" allegations which, if investigated could have prevent the abuses of children. In all, there were 130 allegations of child abuse against 78 Catholic priests in the archdiocese.

The chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay said, "I am truly shocked by the scale of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Birmingham." The inquiry concentrated on the case of four predatory paedophile priests in particular, one of them being Father John Tolkien, son of the author JRR Tolkien. One of the four remains anonymous.

Father John Tolkien
Nichols was interviewed by the IICSA last December and asked about a note written in 1993 which stated that Father Tolkien had admitted abuses in 1968 and had been sent for 'treatment'. The note had been written by the then Archbishop of Birmingham Maurice Couve de Murville as part of the 1993 investigation into the allegations against Fr Tolkien.

Although the note was later disclosed to the police, no action was taken either in 1968 or 1993. This lack of action meant that abusers were free to continue their predatory behaviour. A former boy scout, Christopher Carrie, was awarded £15,000 in compensation in 2003 after he sued the archdiocese. At the time, the Crown Prosecution Service decided Fr Tolkien was too ill to face prosecution and he died a few weeks later.

So concerned was the Birmingham archdiocese to maintain secrecy and protect its reputation that it even helped one predatory paedophile skip the country to avoid justice. Father James Robinson was accused of abuses in the 1980s and was first moved from parish to parish, in the time-honoured way of the Catholic Church, and eventually fled the UK. Police were never informed of the allegations and Robinson continued to receive financial support from the church.

When a BBC investigation tracked Robinson down to a trailer park in California. The subsequent BBC documentary exposing Robinson and the Catholic Church was heavily criticised by Cardinal Nichols for its "anti-Catholic bias". Robinson was eventually convicted in 2010 of 21 cases of child sexual abuse, some 40 years after the church had been made aware of his predation on the children of Birmingham.

The IICSA found that Cardinal Nichols' critical press release focused on the grievance against the program makers and too little on the public interest in exposing the actions of predatory priests and on the harm done to their victims. His actions had compounded that harm.

The IICSA also found that the archdiocese of Los Angeles had been deliberately misled about the nature of the allegations against Robinson, by Monsignor Daniel Leonard. As a result, Robinson was able to remain in America and avoid prosecution for 25 years.

A third example was that of Father Penney who admitted indecently assaulting seven children between 1969 and 1992. He was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in 1993. When the Birmingham archdiocese was alerted to the allegations, the Vicar General, charged with the church's investigation of the complaints, attempted to help Penney escape justice by fleeing the UK!

The case of the anonymous fourth paedophile priest, known simply as RC-F167, is particularly damming of then Archbishop Nichols who was responsible for the archdiocese for the latter part of these events. From the IICSA report Executive Summary:

In 1985 RC‐F167 was accused of sexually abusing two boys at the school where he taught. Following the allegation he resigned and applied to become a priest. As part of the application process, RC‐F167 was asked why he resigned. Even though RC‐F167 did not deny the allegations, the Archdiocese did not pursue the matter and did not properly consider whether he posed a risk to children. Many years later, in 1997, the two complainants reported the matter to the police but the criminal case did not proceed to trial. There have been no formal findings against RC‐F167 but the Archdiocese required RC‐F167 to undertake an assessment which concluded that he should not have unsupervised contact with children. RC‐F167 was then alleged to have asked inappropriate questions of children during confession. He was placed on leave and retired from the priesthood.

In 2004, the Archdiocese of Birmingham was informed that RC‐F167 was teaching again and the Archdiocese’s safeguarding coordinator sought advice from the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA). What should have been a straightforward exercise turned into a long-running dispute between the Archdiocese of Birmingham and COPCA about the provision of RC‐F167’s name to COPCA – a matter which, in the spirit of cooperation, should have been resolved speedily. The Archdiocese did not appear to readily accept the role of COPCA in safeguarding, contrary to the Nolan recommendations.

Despite the Birmingham archdiocese assurance that it has "fundamentally changed its practices and processes to ensure an open and compassionate approach to victims and survivors", the IICSA found that little had changed since it was criticised in 2010 for its failings:

Notwithstanding the developments post the Nolan and Cumberlege reports, the 2010 Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service audit highlighted a number of areas which required further work to be done, including in respect of record keeping. As Lord Nolan acknowledged in his 2001 report, the maintenance of accurate and up-to-date records in respect of an allegation of child sexual abuse is paramount. As a result of the 2010 audit, the Archdiocese should have recognised that the safeguarding team required further resources to enable them to carry out their work. The audit identified that there needed to be proper oversight of the team to ensure that these changes were implemented. The 2018 Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) audit found multiple failings. This included, again, reference to incomplete and substandard records, indicating that little had changed since 2010.

It remains to be seen now what action the Pope will take against the most senior Catholic in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Will the traditional blind eye be turned to his complicity in the abuse of children by his predatory paedophile priests, or will Pope Francis be true to his assurances that he is determined to reform the church and show sincere remorse for its past predations.

Meanwhile, the world still awaits the definitive process for ensuring the protection of children and other vulnerable people from Catholic priests and nuns, promised last February but still showing no signs of being approved.







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