Cardinal Nichols at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published it's report into Birmingham Archdiocese.

This report is extremely important because it involves Cardinal Nichols.
Following the publication at noon today there are lots of people calling for Cardinal Nichols to resign.
I watched the whole thing when it was broadcast live in December. As readers will know, I am no fan of Cardinal Nichols, I certainly do think he should resign for numerous reasons, but honestly, this is not one of those reasons.

When I watched the livestream I took lots of notes and wrote them all in a blog which I did not publish. Why? Well, there was nothing noteworthy. 78 abusers in 90 years. Given the size of the archdiocese is that anything astounding given what we now know about abuse in football clubs. the BBC, schools and the Scout Association?

From the outset it was crystal clear that the enquiry was religiously illiterate and rabidly anti-Catholic with the accusation that priestly celibacy was to blame for child sexual abuse being constantly pushed by counsel for the enquiry. They definitely tried to catch Cardinal Nichols out starting with a shock testimony which was not disclosed to the Cardinal:

The Enquiry opened with an account being read out by Inquiry counsel Jacqueline Carey (left) regarding the abusive priest Penny. In July 1991 Eamon Flannagan told the Church he'd been abused, although he didn't want the police involved. Penny was sent to a therapeutic centre where he was free to come and go. Penny returned to his former parish and continued to abuse sexually. From 1992-1993 Penny went to Gracewell. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment. IICSA received a statement from Fr Doyle PP of Imaculate Conception. He recollects an incident in the early 90's which commenced with a phone call from the Vicar General, a Msgr Leonard, one morning. He said Penny was at Gracewell and was about to be arrested and charged by the police. The VG told Fr Doyle to visit Penny at Gracewell, to go in civilian dress and to take several hundred pounds and give it to Penny, to tell him he would be arrested, and that he should escape to Ireland and make his way to the USA. Fr Doyle was shocked by the request from the VG. Fr Doyle considered this was wrong but as a young priest in his first Parish he felt intimidated by the VG and that he could not refuse instructions from the VG.
Father Doyle: "I did not know whether the Archbishop had any involvement in this incident, but I understood instructions from the Vicar General were to be treated with the same respect as instructions from the Archbishop."
Fr Doyle said he has to suspend his own feelings when compelled by a superior to do something, he had been taught that his superior would be acting for the best. Fr Doyle did not know if the Archbishop knew. Fr Doyle then received a second phone call wherein the VG said he should not visit Penny, but visit his sister and tell her he was about to be arrested. He was not told to give her any money and not to reveal the source of the information. He did this and Penny's sister was upset and confused. Fr Doyle did not know what Penny was to be arrested for. Penny's sister was upset and the conversation was difficult. He was relieved when the conversation ended.

Fr Doyle attended a Deanery meeting in 2018 and the IICSA livestream was being discussed. Fr Doyle wondered if Msgr Leonard had discussed the issue with another priest before making the second phone call.

Asked whether he received adequate training in Birmingham, or whether there was more more training clergy could have had Cardinal Nichols says "We were very busy at the time. I don't think uppermost in my mind was a desire for more." I totally understand that.

Cardinal Nichols says he was part of roughly two cases of abuse a year. He did not directly use the experience of those cases, but he says he indirectly used the experience he gained from dealing with those cases. He recalls the case of a young man he spoke to about how abuse in childhood destroys the concept of trust and how the abuse suffered had led to marital problems later on.

The Cardinal, very movingly and sincerely, states:
"Any abuse committed by someone who represents the Catholic faith, is destructive of the trust that the victim might have found in the truths of faith. That is why the abuse of children in the context of faith is such a terrible, terrible thing." He continues, abuse in the Church "poisons the very wells of our is something that breaks my heart and will forever mark my ministry as a priest".
Having written to Couve de Merville, Cardinal Nichols was told by the Archbishop that there were no cases of abuse of which he had not been appraised. Asked if he still thinks that is the case, Nichols explains that things have slowly come to light, he says that the testimony of Fr Doyle is shocking to him. He never met Monsignor Leonard, the Vicar General who asked Father Doyle to help save a priest from arrest.

The enquiry found that when the abuse of James Robinson was discovered the Cardinal stopped payments to him. Council asked the Cardinal why the funding of this abusive priest was stopped. Nichols explained that he regarded him as a fugitive from justice and that was why the payments were stopped. He was shown a memo from the then Vicar General to Nichols, the final paragraph is critical of both men's predecessors.

The main criticism appears to be in respect of the Cardinal's handling of the Tolkien case. The Tolkien case is complex and dated (he was committing abuse in the 1950's). It emerges that there are lots of issues surrounding the plaintiff, Mr Carrie's, accusations. It emerged during the enquiry that a briefing note exists, which highlights in addition to Mr Carrie, two further individuals also alleged abuse. In the note, the solicitors concluded that Carrie would have been likely to satisfy the court that Father Tolkien abused him in the manner he alleged. Ms Carey asked if Cardinal Nichols accepted that in these circumstances it is up to him whether the advice of the solicitors - to defend the claim or not - is ultimately his decision He agreed that he doesn’t have to accept the guidance of solicitors, but says that in his limited experience of public life, "due process is very important and cannot simply be short cut by moral conviction." Ms Carey raised the additional note brought in 1968, which might suggest that Mr Carrie’s claim was good and valid. She asked why the Cardinal didn’t want Mr Carrie to know that this existed - as it effectively provided support for his account. Cardinal Nichols: “The final conclusion of the diocesan solicitors was that we should be prepared to find a settlement, but it needed also the agreement on behalf of the Tolkien family.” Ms Carey again asked why didn’t Cardinal Nichols want the note to be disclosed. She asks “Why aren’t the victims entitled to know that the church was potentially onto the problems with Father Tolkien in 1968?” Cardinal Nichols: “The question before my mind was always, what do I do with this claim? And what is the best way to find a solution to this complex problem?” He says he took the decision to settle the claim as he felt this was the best way to find closure. Played an excerpt from the hearing on the 13th of November from witness A343 Cardinal Nichols says “it’s very difficult to judge actions in 1968 by today’s standards, but by any standards today, what happened then was not right.” Ms Carrie refuted the Cardinal's explanation, saying the matter at hand is Cardinal Nichol's decision not to disclose the note. Cardinal Nichols said his aim was to settle the case rather than to hide relevant information from the victim. Ms Carrie asks if he would act the same way again. Nichols says he wished the solicitors would have pointed that out to him. Ms Carrie said that Cardinal Nichols expressed the effect that meeting victims have had on him, is this in contradiction with his actions? Cardinal Nichols said he made a pragmatic and a prudent decision to settle the claim but he was not aware that it would be a due process to let the claimant see everything that was there. It was disclosed to the police and the Cardinal thought that was the disclosure that was due, he was wrong.

It seems to me the Cardinal did deal fairly with this case and if he missed some small detail of disclosure it would surely have been down to his solicitor to point that out to him rather than the other way round?

One of the issues which did cause me concern was with regard to an ongoing dispute between COPCA and the Archdiocese of Birmingham about whether names of alleged abusers should be given to COPCA when claims of child sexual abuse are made. Cardinal Nichols was asked who has responsibility that the Archdiocese adopts COPCA policy. The Cardinal said that revealing names was a matter for the child protection professionals involved not him. He did not feel it would be wise to compel the organisation to disclose the names (the Cardinal suggested there were only two cases of this nature that he dealt with). He says intervening would have undermined the commission.

Loads of people want to throw Cardinal Nichols under the bus for this but honestly, he did really well. He was honest, gentle and diligent and pursued abuse cases, he stopped payments to priests who were guilty. He didn't ignore or cover any up. Read the report yourself, you'll be hard pressed to find any wrong doing. The abuse cases took place over a long historic period. We now know no one knew how to deal with abuse in the 30's, 40's, 50's etc, is it really a surprise the Church didn't know either?

Credit where credit is due. On this I stand firmly with the Cardinal.


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