THE Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Edward Adams, has been criticised this week for refusing to give evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
An IICSA hearing this week is investigating the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of allegations of child sex abuse said to have taken place at the RC private St Benedict’s School, and Ealing Abbey, in west London. The hearing is part of the inquiry’s wider case study of the English Benedictine Congregation.
The allegations made against individuals at Ealing range from “excessive” physical punishment, for sexual gratification and other motives; grooming; fondling of genitalia; anal penetration; and rape, the Inquiry heard.
Archbishop Adams was asked to provide a “voluntary statement” (because he is covered by diplomatic immunity), explaining his relationship to the school and abbey, his knowledge of the allegations, and how reports were handled.
This includes the handling of allegations that led to the conviction of a former RC priest, Laurence Soper, who is currently serving 18 years in prison for sexual offences against schoolboys at St Benedict’s. He jumped bail and spent five years in Kosovo before he was extradited to the UK and imprisoned in 2017 (News, 1 February). He is one of only two priests known to be extradited on historic sexual charges.
In her opening statement on Monday, the lead counsel to the investigation, Riel Karmy-Jones QC, said that Archbishop Adams had not answered repeated requests for the statement.
“The inquiry received confirmation from the Apostolic Nuncio that its request was being carefully considered, but that, due to the diplomatic nature of the Nunciature, the Apostolic Nuncio would need to consult with the Holy See,” she said.
“Despite a number of further requests for an update on the progress of those discussions, the inquiry has not yet received a statement nor any substantive response to its correspondence.”
Professor Alexis Jay, who chairs the inquiry, has the power to start criminal proceedings against witnesses who do not respond to calls for evidence. David Enright QC, who represents survivors of clerical abuse, urged Professor Jay to use these powers to force the Nuncio to give evidence, or face up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.
“The Papal Nuncio’s astonishing refusal to answer questions on pressing child-abuse matters, and thereby the Catholic Church’s flagrant disregard for this inquiry, cannot be allowed to go unchallenged,” he said. “The Papal Nuncio needs to know that he has only three choices here: to offer up the evidence; to face criminal prosecution; or to be expelled from the UK.
“Now, it has been suggested that you would be slow to exercise your powers for fear that the Nuncio might hide behind his diplomatic immunity and thereby evade the force of British law, but that’s a matter for the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and our courts, not for you.”
Mr Enright had, he said, already written to the Prime Minister asking her to expel Archbishop Adams from the UK if he did not comply.
Representing the English Benedictine Congregation, Kate Gallafent QC, said: “We make it clear that we, on behalf of the Catholic Council, will continue to do all that we can to assist the inquiry and to ensure that all relevant information is put before it. But, for the moment, in so far as the Apostolic Nuncio is concerned, that is a matter that continues to be dealt with by the solicitor to the inquiry himself.”
Richard Scorer QC, of the law firm Slater & Gordon, who also represents survivors, including core participants of the Anglican investigation, said: “It is absolutely outrageous that the Papal Nuncio seeks to hide behind diplomatic immunity to avoid giving information to the inquiry.”
The Nunciature has declined to comment.