Cardinal faces claim he ignored sex abuse allegations
England’s Catholic leader to give evidence to inquiry investigating handling of child abuse cases
ENGLAND’S most senior Catholic clergyman faces embarrassment this week when he appears before an inquiry to answer claims he ignored child sex abuse allegations against his priests, including the son of JRR Tolkien.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, is to give evidence in person to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is investigating how a number of key institutions in Britain handled sex abuse claims.
The hearing will examine the cardinal’s former Archdiocese of Birmingham, where he served as archbishop from 2000 to 2009. It will look into the handling of allegations against Fr John Tolkien, the son of JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, who was questioned by police in 2002 over an abuse allegation, but was never charged. Cardinal Nichols faces claims that senior church officials allowed Fr Tolkien, who died in 2003, to continue working despite promising an alleged victim years earlier that he would be forced to retire.
Fr Tolkien had been accused by a Birmingham man, Christopher Carrie, of having twice sexually abused him in November 1956, when he was aged 11. When, as an adult, he discovered in 1993 that Fr Tolkien was working as a parish priest in Oxfordshire, Mr Carrie reported the alleged abuse to the then Archbishop of Birmingham, Maurice Couve de Murville, who promised that senior officials would investigate.
Archbishop Murville told Mr Carrie that Fr Tolkien was shortly due to retire as a priest. However, Mr Carrie discovered the following year that despite this promise, Fr Tolkien was still actively officiating in church services.
This prompted him to report his claims to West Midlands Police in September 1994. In February 2002, follow- ing a second police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that while there was “sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of a conviction”, it was not in the public interest to to bring charges against Fr Tolkien because of his poor state of health.
Mr Carrie then sued the Archdiocese of Birmingham for compensation over the trauma he had suffered at his hands. The case was eventually settled, and he was paid an undisclosed sum.
Cardinal Nichols, who will give evidence on Tuesday, is expected to be questioned about how much he knew about claims against Fr Tolkien and other clergymen and what he did.
Speaking about Fr Tolkien in October 2003, the cardinal said: “With hindsight he should have been stopped sooner.”
The hearing will also investigate the cases of Fr Samuel Penney and Fr James Robinson, both of whom were convicted and jailed.
Penney, 75, was jailed for seven-anda-half years in 1993 after he admitted indecently assaulting seven children, while Robinson was jailed for 21 years in 2010 for the sexual abuse of six young boys which began in the Fifties.
Bernard Longley, the current archbishop of Birmingham, will give evidence on Friday.
Christopher Jacobs, of Howe & Co, who represents some of the complainants, told a preliminary hearing in September that the Archdiocese was selected due to “the disparate nature of the Catholic Church and its lack of structure, line management or ability to oversee child protection within its ranks”. The inquiry will examine “the failure of those at the top of the church either to be able or willing to exercise any form of control or even refer allegations made to them directly to the relevant body,” he added.
The number of years Fr James Robinson was jailed following his conviction for abusing six young boys