Friday, 12 Jul 2024

Britain's top Catholic criticised by abuse victims as he misses inquiry

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, now the Archbishop of Westminster, was due to be questioned at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday, but the panel was told he is unwell and will now attend in December.

In his absence the inquiry heard from witnesses who alleged they had suffered sexual abuses by high-profile priests including Father John Tolkien, son of The Hobbit author JRR Tolkien.

The complainant accused Cardinal Nichols, who was Archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009, of seeking to cover up the abuse of children that took place in the 1970s.

The complainant, who remains anonymous, described Father Tolkien as very highly regarded, the “creme de la creme”, by the church in the area.

He related being invited to the presbytery on a Saturday morning for help with reading, as he was dyslexic.

But he said Father Tolkien “then said that I needed to take my trousers down and kneel and start praying and keep my eyes closed and my hands together, in the praying position, and then he took my underwear down”.

He went on to describe how the priest had told him this was a “special prayer session… He said I had been chosen and it was between myself, him and Jesus”.

He said there had been three to five such “sessions” with Father Tolkien, and that the priest had told him: “It must be kept secret. This secret must never, ever be told” as he left the room.

Father Tolkien, who died in 2003, always denied the allegations against him.

Asked later how he felt the church viewed abuse survivors, the complainant said: “I think they just see them as a scourge on them, third class citizens who dare to challenge them.”

He said it was “unbelievable” that the priest had been able to return to ministry.

“Vincent Nichols, the so-called Cardinal of England and Wales, has the nerve to start talking to solicitors on how to cover things up,” he continued.

“That’s not Christian. To cover up children being abused by paedophiles, that’s beyond words.”

The inquiry had earlier heard that Cardinal Nichols had been aware of abuse complaints against Father Tolkien, but had not reported the incidents.

Another witness, who was abused by Father James Robinson in the early 1970s, became emotional as he spoke of what had happened.

“This has destroyed my life,” he said. “Not once, not twice, but repeatedly, and it is ongoing. J’accuse Cardinal Vincent Nichols. I regard this as a vendetta here.”

In 2010, James Robinson was found guilty of 21 child sexual abuse offences, including indecent assaults and buggery, and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Asked if he had ever sat down with the Cardinal to discuss events, the complainant said: “Never, ever, and that’s his choice.”

Asked if he would like to do so, he said: “Yes. Here, in public, on television.”

In August, Cardinal Nichols released a letter in which he apologised for the Church abuse scandals and said he bore “the direct responsibility of a father to protect his household from harm”, the Catholic Herald reported.

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