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Cardinal Nichols pulls out of IICSA hearing owing to ill health

16 November 2018

The hearing is focusing on the RC Church in Birmingham’s handling of abuse allegations


The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, in Newcastle, earlier this year

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, in Newcastle, earlier this year

THE Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has had to pull out of giving evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which is focusing on the handling of allegations by the RC Church in Birmingham, owing to ill health.

Cardinal Nichols, who was previously Archbishop of Birmingham, had been due to give evidence before the IICSA inquiry on Tuesday, but was forced to withdraw, on advice from his doctor, after being taken ill during a service on Remembrance Sunday.

The week-long inquiry is focusing on the response to allegations of abuse by four priests, including the now dead Fr John Tolkien, the son of the author J. R. R. Tolkien.

The hearing was told that the RC Church knew that Fr Tolkien posed a risk to children after a note was made in 1968 of an allegation that he had told Boy Scouts to strip naked; and yet he was allowed to continue to work as a priest in Sparkhill, Birmingham, for decades.

One survivor told the inquiry that he had been forced to pray with his trousers down by Fr Tolkien, and was afterwards told by the priest to keep what had happened a secret.

Further allegations from other alleged victims surfaced, and the case was investigated by police, but, after a medical assessment of Fr Tolkien, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed, and Fr Tolkien died shortly afterwards.

Fr Tolkien “repeatedly and consistently denied the allegations against him”, the inquiry was told.

One complainant, Christopher Carrie, sued the diocese over its handling of his claim of sexual abuse by Fr Tolkien, and was paid £15,000 in compensation.

In a written submission to the inquiry read out on Monday, the day before he had been due to appear in person, Cardinal Nichols apologised for his part in the case. He said: “Often, in the past, we failed to respond promptly and vigorously to the cries and accounts of victims. We followed our instincts in trusting those fellow priests who were, in fact, criminals.

“We put too much in our sense of duty to shield other Catholics from these horrors, putting what we saw to be the good of Church before a search for the truth of what happened.”

Another date is to be agreed for Cardinal Nichols to appear before the inquiry.

The hearing is also investigating the diocese’s response to the cases of priests Samuel Penney and James Robinson, both of whom were convicted and imprisoned for child sexual abuse; and one other priest, who has not been charged with a crime, and is not named by the inquiry.

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