Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster to give evidence to child abuse inquiry

England’s most senior Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Vincent Nichols is to face questions at the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) today.

The Archbishop of Westminster was due to appear last month, but pulled out of the central London inquiry due to ill health.

He will face questions from the inquiry about his time as Archbishop of Birmingham, and the handling of allegations of abuse by four priests, including the now dead Father John Tolkien, the son of Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien.

The inquiry has heard evidence that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham may have been aware of sexual abuse by Father John Tolkien, alleged to have made scouts strip naked in the 1950s, when he was based in Sparkhill, Birmingham.

Fr Tolkien was also accused by Christopher Carrie from Birmingham of sexually abusing him twice in November 1956, when he was 11 years old.

When in 1993 he found out that the priest was still practicing, he reported the abuse to Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville.

Christopher Carrie was told that the church would investigate his complaint and that Fr Tolkien would retire soon.

But Fr Tolkien continued to practice, no action was taken and authorities were not informed of allegations against him.

The investigation has revealed a note from around the time that Mr Carrie reported the abuse, written by Archbishop Maurice Couvede Murville that suggests that before Fr Tolkein died in 2003 he had admitted the abuse and may have been sent for treatment.

The note suggests the Archdiocese of Birmingham had been aware of abuse allegations as early as 1968, yet they were not reported to the police.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, is expected to be questioned today about why when he was Archbishop of Birmingham between 2000 and 2009, Fr Tolkien was still allowed to practice, despite promises made to his victim.

Fr Tolkien denied allegations against him and when further allegations emerged police investigated. Yet the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute the priest after a medical assessment shortly before his death.

Christopher Carrie, sued the diocese over its handling of his abuse claim and received £15,000 in compensation.

In a written submission to the IICSA read out last month when he pulled out due to ill health, Cardinal Nichols apologised and said he was “keen” to make representations concerning his time as Archbishop of Birmingham.

He wrote: “often, in the past, we failed to respond promptly and vigorously to the cries and accounts of victims. We followed our instincts in trusting those fellow priests who were, in fact, criminals.

“We put too much in our sense of duty to shield other Catholics from these horrors, putting what we saw to be the good of Church before a search for the truth of what happened.”

The IICSA is also investigating the response to the cases of priests Samuel Penney and James Robinson, both of whom were convicted and imprisoned for child sexual abuse; and one other priest, who has not been charged with a crime, and is not named by the inquiry.

In an earlier hearing, Christopher Jacobs of Howe and Co, who represents 36 anonymous core participants, said the child sexual abuse survivors he represents believe that the Catholic Church still poses a”clear and present danger to children”.

“Those who instruct me take the view that the evidence so far presents a picture of the Church as a clear and present danger to children as it is structurally organised,” said Mr Jacobs, warning that the Church’s attempts tobuild effective mechanisms since the Nolan Report in 2001 are “clearly not working.”

The IICSA was set up by Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2014 because of  serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.

(Photo c James Bradley CC-by-2.0 ) 

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