The Times [England]
April 11, 2021
By Emily Kent Smith
A woman sexually abused by a priest has threatened legal action against the Catholic church after officials branded her “needy” and “manipulative”.
The abuse, and later rape, began when she was 15 and continued for years. She reported her allegations to the church in 2016 and received a settlement in 2018.
It is understood that the woman has sent a letter threatening legal action on the grounds of personal injury after alleging she was “re-traumatised” at the hands of safeguarding staff when she disclosed the abuse.
The case is against the Archdiocese of Westminster, of which Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, is head. It is understood that Nichols is named repeatedly in the letter. No personal legal liability is alleged on the part of Nichols, although the woman is critical of his role.
The woman, referred to by the codename A711, said: “I believe that my case highlights the harm caused by the failings of the diocese of Westminster, and in particular, the failings of Cardinal Nichols, to engage with survivors in a compassionate and meaningful way.”
Her solicitor, Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, accused Nichols of “presid[ing] over a dysfunctional safeguarding operation in his own backyard”.
The woman says she felt passed from “pillar to post” after reporting allegations, including rape. When she submitted a subject access request to find out what information had been shared about her, she discovered a series of disparaging emails. One read: “This woman is deeply manipulative” and another said: “The victim is needy.”
On one occasion, the cardinal was copied into an email about making contact with the woman. An official asked: “Am I right in thinking you will not be sending a further reply?” “You are right in your assumption,” he wrote.
The woman, now in her fifties, gave evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which concluded that language used by church officials about her had been “disrespectful”.
After the first emails were disclosed in 2019, the woman learnt about further correspondence and asked for it repeatedly. Months later, she obtained it and saw that a safeguarding officer had described her as “bullying”. The new revelations led to a further deterioration of her mental health, she says.
The proposed legal claim against the archdiocese, set out in a letter sent last week, is also understood to allege that the woman’s personal data was breached when a dossier about her was sent in error to someone outside the church with the same name as a safeguarding official.
Last year, the IICSA concluded that Nichols had failed to show “personal responsibility” or “compassion” when dealing with sexual abuse survivors. At times he had signalled that “he cares more about the impact of child sexual abuse on the Catholic church’s reputation than on victims and survivors”, it added.
The church then announced new safeguarding processes. The cardinal admitted survivors’ stories hung over him like a “dark cloud”.
The woman says she was spurred to consider legal proceedings after Nichols remained in his post despite the IICSA’s verdict. She could come to terms with the actions of one priest, but “to find that the church should lack compassion, that members of the institution are talking about you in this way, you realise it is much bigger than one individual”, she said. “As long as he is in office, the Catholic church in England and Wales will struggle to convince people that it can improve its appalling safeguarding record.”
Scorer said he hoped the action would prompt “ soul-searching” in the church.
A spokesman for Nichols said: “The cardinal apologised to A711 in person when he met her in April 2019 and subsequently in a letter to her.” As the woman was “seeking legal redress”, no further comment would be “appropriate”.