Child Sexual Abuse in Catholic Church ‘swept under the Carpet’, Inquiry Finds
By Owen Bowcott and Harriet Sherwood
November 10, 2020
Pope Francis asked Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, to stay in his post, despite a damning report that criticised his leadership and concluded that the church repeatedly prioritised its reputation over the welfare of child sex abuse victims.
In its final review of the church, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) said the Vatican’s failure to cooperate with the investigation “passes understanding”.
The 162-page report said “the church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and vulnerable.”
Of Nichols, it stated: “There was no acknowledgment of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change. Nor did he demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined.”
Calls for Nichols’s resignation grew in the wake of the publication of the report on Tuesday. An anonymous survivor who gave evidence told the Guardian: “Cardinal Nichols is the moral leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, he has lost all moral authority and must go … This report once again demonstrates that the Catholic church is not a safe place for children.”
Members of the survivors group White Flowers Alba called upon Cardinal Nichols and the present papal nuncio, Archbishop Adams, to “resign immediately”.
Another victim, identified by the inquiry only as A711, said: “The church needs a seismic shift in culture, especially at the top. If there is any hope at all of real change it will require a relinquishing of power, and a will to treat survivors as human beings.”
Between 1970 and 2015, the church in England and Wales received more than 900 complaints involving more than 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse, made against more than 900 individuals, including priests, monks and volunteers.
The sexual abuse of children involved instances of “masturbation, oral sex, vaginal rape and anal rape”. On occasions, the inquiry says, it was accompanied by “sadistic beatings driven by sexual gratification” as well as “deeply manipulative behaviour by those in positions of trust”.
One child estimated that between the ages of 11 and 15 he had been abused hundreds of times by a priest. “After each incident he was required to make confession, and the priest concerned made it plain that his sister’s place at a local convent school depended on his compliance,” the report says.
When complaints were made, the church invariably failed to support victims and survivors but took action to protect alleged perpetrators by moving them to a different parish. “Child sexual abuse,” the report says, “was swept under the carpet.”
The inquiry asked the Vatican’s ambassador to the UK, the papal nuncio, to participate. “Very limited information was forthcoming,” the report says. “After several months of correspondence, the Holy See belatedly confirmed it would not provide a witness statement.
“Their lack of cooperation passes understanding.”
Prof Alexis Jay, the chair of the inquiry, said: “For decades, the Catholic church’s failure to tackle child sexual abuse consigned many more children to the same fate. It is clear that the church’s reputation was valued above the welfare of victims, with allegations ignored and perpetrators protected. Even today, the responses of the Holy See appear at odds with the pope’s promise to take action on this hugely important problem.”
Richard Scorer, a solicitor at the law firm Slater and Gordon, which represented 32 survivors, said: “Cardinal Nichols needs to resign right away – in any other walk of life he would be gone immediately. This is a church that cannot be trusted to protect children. The only way forward now is a mandatory reporting law, so that abuse cannot be covered up, and independent external oversight of church safeguarding. ”
One survivor represented by Slater and Gordon who gave evidence before the inquiry said: “Vincent Nichols will retire with a full pension – meanwhile, the victims that he denied justice to have to live on, still suffering.
“The fact is Nichols is a serial protector of paedophiles and he is the person that you should least expect it from. The head of a church should have the greatest morals of all but instead they were sending paedophiles to other areas of the country – and America – in an attempt to cover the abuse up.”
David Enright, a solicitor at Howe & Co, which represented 20 of the victims, said: “The church has had many, many chances to reform and root out child abuse. It has failed. It is with heavy hearts that my clients, many of them devout Catholics, conclude that the only safe course of action is to take safeguarding of children out of the hands of the Catholic church and into the hands of accountable lay professionals.”
Responding to calls for Nichols’ departure, a church spokesperson said the cardinal would not be resigning following the inquiry’s criticisms because he was “determined to put it right”.
In accordance with Vatican rules, Nichols wrote to the Holy See about four weeks ago in the run-up to his 75th birthday, which was on Sunday, to offer his resignation. Pope Francis had asked him to continue as a cardinal, the spokesperson said.
A statement issued by Nichols and the archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, said the Catholic church welcomed the report, which would “inform” improvements in “safeguarding in all aspects of the church’s life”.
It added: “We apologise to all victims and survivors who have not been properly listened to, or properly supported by us.”