THE Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, has apologised to survivors of abuse in the diocese, at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
Archbishop Longley appeared before the inquiry on Friday, on the final day of a five-day hearing that focused on the handling of allegations by the RC Church in Birmingham during the past three decades.
He told the inquiry: “I apologise to those survivors and victims of abuse for what they have suffered within the archdiocese over the years. I apologise to them, and I would certainly wish to seek some way of lifting the burden. I know that apologies may feel as if they have come too late, and are inadequate. I accept that. But I am sorry.”
He acknowledged that there was still “room for a lot of improvement” in the diocese, but said that he had learned from meetings in which survivors had told him of the trauma that they had experienced.
The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who was previously Archbishop of Birmingham, pulled out of giving evidence to IICSA after falling ill on Remembrance Sunday (News, 16 November). The inquiry will reconvene to hear his evidence on 13 December.
The inquiry focused on the response by the diocese 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 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, 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 Tolkien, and, afterwards, was told by the priest to keep what happened a secret.
Further allegations from other alleged victims surfaced, and the case was investigated by police, but, after a medical assessment of Tolkien, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed, and Tolkien died shortly after.
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 Tolkien, and was paid £15,000 in compensation.
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.