The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols – leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales – has spoken of the ’embodiment of evil’ among church members.
Giving evidence for the second time to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Nichols, above, said:
The experience in the Catholic community in this country over the last 20 years has been one of struggling to cope with the presence of evil embodied in its members, which has shocked it to the core.
Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who acts for 27 abuse victims in the inquiry, responded to Nichols’ latest claim that he was still struggling to get his head around the extent of clerical abuse by saying:
Cardinal Nichols’s evidence will cut little ice with victims. The Catholic Church has spent the last two decades promising to get safeguarding right, but the evidence in this inquiry has exposed these promises as so much hot air.
Scorer said improvements had been “lamentably slow”, treatment of survivors was “consistently poor” and the Catholic Church’s structure and culture meant it was:
Incapable of delivering the changes survivors need.
But Nichols has insisted that the Church’s culture had improved “radically” in recent years. He conceded, however, there was still “more to achieve”.
Nichols said he had learned lessons about tackling abuse at a summit called by the Pope at the Vatican for senior bishops.
A letter the cardinal wrote to bishops in England and Wales following the meeting was shown to the inquiry.
He wrote that, during the meeting, he’d experienced:
A change of perspective. I began to see everything from the perspective of the victim/survivor. That is a sobering perspective for us to take.
An earlier report into abuse in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, which the cardinal led, found that the Church sometimes put its reputation above that of the needs of victims. He said that characterisation did not apply to him.
Lead counsel for the inquiry, Brian Altman QC, asked if the cardinal believed there was still much to improve, despite major inquiries held in 2001 and 2007.
The cardinal said:
The culture of the Catholic Church today is radically different from 2001 or even 2007, but I do think there’s much, much more to achieve.
Archbishop Nichols was also asked why another archbishop – the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain Monsignor Edward Adams, above – had refused to give the inquiry a statement about abuse at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School and specifically why it had taken so long for the Vatican to remove a particularly abusive priest from the Church.
In May this year victims’ solicitors demanded to know what steps Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See had taken, or had been asked to take, in order to facilitate this and in order to avoid it becoming a diplomatic issue.
The cardinal said he had stressed the importance of the inquiry to the other members of the clergy but added he was “not a diplomat” and did not understand:
The niceties of international law in these things.
He also praised the Vatican police force for providing information that helped to locate and apprehend an abusive priest who had fled the country.