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Inquiry publishes report on Archdiocese of Birmingham case study

20 June 2019

The report found more than 130 allegations of child sexual abuse have been made against 78 individuals associated with the Archdiocese since the 1930s. The true scale of offending is likely to be far higher.

The report examines the church’s response to child sexual abuse by investigating the cases of four priests; James Robinson, Samuel Penney, John Tolkien and an anonymous priest ciphered as RC-F167.

It also considers whether the Nolan and Cumberlege reports, produced in 2001 and 2007 respectively, succeeded in bringing about major reforms.

During six days of public hearings in 2018, the Inquiry heard how Robinson, a serial child abuser, was simply moved to another parish after complaints were first made in the 1980s. The police were not informed and there was no internal investigation.

In 1985, he fled to the US after being confronted by a victim who recorded their conversation. However, he continued to receive financial support from the Archdiocese for seven years.

In 2003, the BBC broadcast a documentary in which the programme-makers tracked down Robinson to a caravan park in California and confronted him. The then Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols - now a Cardinal and the highest-ranking Catholic in the UK - issued a press release complaining about the programme and accusing the BBC of anti-Catholic bias.

This report found Cardinal Nichols’ response was “misplaced and missed the point”, by choosing to defend the reputation of the church rather than fully acknowledge the possibility of its shortcomings.

Similarly, when the Archdiocese was alerted to allegations against Penney, the Vicar General in charge of investigating them instead attempted to help him evade arrest and leave the UK.

In such cases, the lack of action by the church meant that abusers were free to continue commiting acts of child sexual abuse.

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said:

“I am truly shocked by the scale of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The number of perpetrators and abused children is likely to be far higher than the figures suggest.

“Victims and survivors’ allegations were mostly ignored for years, while perpetrators avoided prosecution. It is clear that the church could have stopped children being abused if it had not been so determined to protect its own reputation. We hope this report will help ensure that never happens again.”

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