Birmingham & Black Country

Cardinal Vincent Nichols denies sex abuse 'cover-up'

Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Image caption Cardinal Vincent Nichols denied a cover up over sex abuse allegations involving a priest

The leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales was accused of covering up child sex abuse allegations against a priest, an inquiry heard.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols - Birmingham's archbishop between 2000 and 2009 - was asked if he suppressed a note about an incident in 1968, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard.

It related to an alleged incident involving Father John Tolkien, son of novelist JRR Tolkien.

The cardinal denied a cover-up.

The alleged abuse happened in the 1950s, when Father Tolkien was based in Sparkhill, Birmingham, the hearing in London was told.

'Reached a settlement'

The inquiry was told the note came to light in legal advice to Cardinal Nichols while considering a civil claim by an alleged victim of Father Tolkien's.

Former boy scout Christopher Carrie, who claimed Father Tolkien abused him in two incidents in the 1950s, received compensation after reaching a settlement with the archdiocese in 2003.

Cardinal Nichols, now Archbishop of Westminster, was giving evidence at the inquiry, which is examining possible failings across a string of organisations, including the Catholic Church.

Asked about allegations he failed to disclose the existence of the note to the complainant, the cardinal said: "In the context of the claim and the discussions with the solicitors, my priority was to get that settled and when that was settled I simply didn't give the matter any further thought.

"For which I apologise."

The note was drafted by Maurice Couve de Murville who was Birmingham's Archbishop between 1982 and 1999, as part of a 1993 investigation, suggesting he had known about the 1968 allegation, the hearing in London was told.

Image copyright Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
Image caption Cardinal Vincent Nichols told the inquiry that the child abuse at the Archdiocese "will forever mark" his ministry as a priest

No action was taken against Father Tolkien in the 1990s, and he retired from the priesthood some six months after Archbishop Couve de Murville was told of the allegation, the hearing heard.

Father Tolkien, who died in 2003, was believed to have denied claims he made a group of scouts strip naked.

But evidence which investigators believed suggested the priest may have admitted abuse emerged in the note, which came to light at a series of hearings by the inquiry.

The inquiry panel has been examining the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham's response to allegations made against four priests, including Father Tolkien.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is looking at allegations in Birmingham's Roman Catholic Archdiocese

In February 2002, it was decided not to proceed with a prosecution against Father Tolkien on the grounds of ill health, and he died the following year.

The lawyers uncovered allegations by six complainants against Father Tolkien, and concluded: "Carrie is likely to satisfy the [civil] court, Father Tolkien abused him in the manner he alleges."

Cardinal Nichols said allegations of child abuse made against his peers "poisons the very wells of our salvation".

"It is indeed something that breaks my heart and will forever mark my ministry as a priest," he said.

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