LONDON (UNITED KINGDOM)
The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]
June 23, 2021
By Catherine Pepinster
The papal nuncio to Great Britain has met survivors of child sexual abuse and promised to raise their treatment by the Catholic Church directly with Pope Francis. After a lengthy meeting during which Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti listened to three survivors tell their stories, he apologised for how they had been treated and said he would give an account of their situation when he meets Francis in Rome in September.
The meeting marked a major breakthrough in the way the Church has handled abuse cases in this country and follows criticism by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) of the Vatican’s handling of abuse.
Survivors wrote on several occasions to the nuncio asking to meet him; after delays caused by Covid lockdowns, talks finally went ahead on Saturday when Archbishop Gugerotti travelled to Birmingham to meet several survivors in person at Archbishop’s House. For an hour and three-quarters, he listened as the trio recounted the abuse they endured at the hands of priests and how the Church caused further trauma in the way it handled the survivors’ complaints.
The three were A711, who was abused and raped by a Servite priest and later made several complaints about the handling of her case by Westminster Diocese; A343 who was abused by Fr John Tolkien and F49 who was abused at Croome Court, a residential school run by nuns on behalf of the Catholic Church.
After the meeting, they said they were “cautiously optimistic” about the nuncio’s pastoral approach. The three survivors raised the lack of compassion they had been shown by the Church; the lack of financial support for victims and survivors needing counselling; and the Church’s concern for its own reputation.
They also raised the issue of Cardinal Vincent Nichols still being in post as Archbishop of Westminster after personal criticism by IICSA for his handling of the abuse crisis.
The survivors said that Archbishop Gugerotti’s pledge to help was encouraging. The three also said they hoped “we will see his words backed up by actions”, given that victims and survivors felt let down in the past by empty promises from the Church.
The nuncio’s intervention is believed to be the first time that a papal diplomat has met victims or survivors in this country and shows a marked change in the approach taken by the Pope’s representatives here. In 2018 and 2019, IICSA officials asked the previous nuncio, Archbishop Edward Adams, for information pertinent to its inquiries but were given only very limited details already in the public domain. The Holy See said it would not provide a witness statement, and due to the diplomatic status of the Holy See and its nuncios, they could not be compelled to do so. IICSA condemned this approach, saying “their lack of co-operation passes understanding”.
Now the current nuncio has offered to meet more survivors of abuse in Britain – signs of a more victim-centred approach developing in the Church. This week, members of the Comboni Survivors Group confirmed that they would be meeting Bishop Marcus Stock, Bishop of Leeds and vice chair of the National Safeguarding Commission, to discuss abuse of children in the care of the Comboni Order while it ran a junior seminary in Stock’s diocese in the 1960s-1980s.
The group says that Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta and a papal adviser on child sexual abuse, will attend the meeting at Pope Francis’ request. In 2019, during the abuse summit in Rome, bishops from across the world were addressed by survivors.