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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Investigation Report

Contents

H.5: A recent safeguarding response: RC-A711

35. RC-A711 provided evidence about her experience of the way the Diocese of Westminster handled a recent complaint about safeguarding responses. That evidence cast a depressing light on the way those responsible for safeguarding in the Diocese of Westminster spoke about a victim.

Background

36. RC-A711 is a survivor of child sexual abuse. She gave impressive evidence to the Inquiry in a calm and dignified manner.

37. RC-A711 told us that from the late 1970s onwards (then aged 15 years old) she was groomed and sexually abused by RC-F500. RC-F500 was her local parish priest and a member of the Servite Order and in his 30s or 40s. She told us the abuse continued during her university years and that when she was 24 years old RC-F500 raped her. Many years later, RC-A711 received a qualified apology from him.[1]

38. In October 2016, RC-A711 reported the abuse to the Church and the Servite Order.[2] In December 2016, her case was transferred to the Diocese of Westminster due to the ill-health of the original safeguarding officer. RC-A711 told us she thought that because Cardinal Vincent Nichols was Archbishop of Westminster, she would “be well looked after” and that things would “run smoothly” but “that could not have been further from the truth”.[3]

Complaints about the Diocese of Westminster

39. RC-A711 raised a number of issues regarding the handling of her case by the Diocese of Westminster and its safeguarding team.

39.1. Failure to provide risk assessment feedback. When RC-A711 reported the abuse, the Servite Order commissioned a risk assessment of RC-F500 and she was told by her previous diocese that she would be given verbal feedback about the assessment. The Diocese of Westminster told RC-A711 in a one-line email that “We confirm there will be no feedback”.[4] RC-A711 contacted Father Jeremy Trood, the Episcopal Vicar for Safeguarding in the Diocese of Westminster, to question this. He told her it was not for one diocese to comment on another diocese’s practices and, when she asked to speak to him, he passed her back to the assistant safeguarding coordinator.[5] In her view, it was clear that Father Trood did not wish to engage with her on this issue.[6]

39.2. Failure to correspond or meet. Following the transfer of her case to Westminster, RC-A711 asked to meet with someone from the safeguarding office. The Diocese of Westminster told her that they had received legal advice to the effect that a representative of the Servite Order had to be present at any meeting with the Westminster safeguarding team. RC-A711 did not want a member of the Order to be present. She said, “it would cause me a lot of anxiety to have to be in the same room as a Servite priest”.[7] When she raised this with the safeguarding coordinator, RC-A711 said she felt the response was “patronising and intimidating”, and that there was no attempt to be “understanding and compassionate”.[8] In May and June 2017, RC-A711 sent Cardinal Nichols four emails outlining her complaints and concerns about the way she was being treated by the safeguarding office. His private secretary responded to her first email conveying the Cardinal’s sorrow for the difficulties she described and assuring RC-A711 of the Cardinal’s prayers. The reply also suggested that RC-A711 should take her complaints to the NCSC.[9] RC-A711 had in fact already met Christopher Pearson (the chair of the NCSC). She found him to be “supportive and very willing to listen” but he had made clear that he had no jurisdiction over individual dioceses and was therefore limited in what he could do. She wrote:

To be advised by the Cardinal to go back to the NCSC makes me feel as though I am being passed from pillar to post”.[10]

40. At the end of June 2017, RC-A711 was asked to detail all of her concerns and complaints into a single email. She did so that same day, stating:

I am not raising these issues to be awkward or difficult but to share my perspective on how survivors may experience their dealings with the Church”.[11]

She told us that she was made to feel she was “at best, being a nuisance and, at worst, being manipulative”.[12] RC-A711’s composite summary of complaints caused the Westminster safeguarding commission to refer the matter to CSAS and, in July 2017, the commission asked CSAS to assist in identifying a suitable investigator.

41. In November 2017, the independent investigating officer, Karen Abrams, found that:

  • the safeguarding coordinator failed to respond appropriately to RC-A711;[13] and
  • the insistence that a member of the Servite Order be present at any meeting showed “a lack of empathy and compassion for the survivor”.[14]

42. Ms Abrams also upheld or partially upheld RC-A711’s complaints regarding the reluctance of the Diocese to engage with her[15] and her report concluded with seven recommendations. Cardinal Nichols later told RC-A711 that the recommendations would “continue to be developed” in partnership between the Diocese, CSAS and the NCSC.

43. Cardinal Nichols told us that he did not think he was the right person to investigate and adjudicate upon RC-A711’s complaints about staff members within the safeguarding office.[16] He accepted that he did not respond to some of RC-A711’s emails. When asked why he did not even acknowledge receipt of her emails, he said “Well I didn’t, I’m sorry”.[17]

RC-A711’s subject access request

44. In December 2018, RC-A711 made a subject access request.[18] She was given extracts from internal emails.

Email from the Westminster safeguarding office in December 2016
Email from the Westminster safeguarding office in December 2016
Source: INQ004697_001

Email from Father Trood in April 2017
Email from Father Trood in April 2017
Source: INQ004692_001

Email from Father Trood in May 2017
Email from Father Trood in May 2017
Source: INQ004695_001

45. As RC-A711 told us, the descriptions of her were “absolutely appalling”.[19]

46. The emails were intended to be private internal communications but, by describing RC-A711 in this way, they highlight what those individuals really thought of RC-A711 when they wrote that correspondence. The language was cynical and hostile towards RC-A711, lacking victim empathy or compassion. As these were some of the individuals responsible for child protection in the Diocese, it is troubling that they spoke about RC-A711 and her complaint in such terms.

47. Cardinal Nichols was asked about these emails. He said that he had spoken to Father Trood about the language used in the emails but said he did not speak to Peter Houghton.

Q. But why not?

A. No. I haven’t.

Q. Did it ever cross your mind that, perhaps, as the Archbishop of Westminster and the cardinal, that was a conversation you ought to have had?

A. He’s a very, very experienced child protection officer, as you know. His credentials are – he’s very senior. That doesn’t answer your question.

Q. No. All the more reason he shouldn’t have been writing in these terms?

A. Yes, I agree. I agree.

Q. And he’s still in place?

A. Yes, he is.[20]

48. The Inquiry was subsequently informed that Cardinal Nichols and Peter Houghton did discuss the email.

49. In September 2018, RC-A711 sent Cardinal Nichols a copy of Karen Abrams’ findings. She told us that his reply simply noted that the report had been made final in 2017 and that the safeguarding office had responded. Cardinal Nichols acknowledged that his “rather terse” email was “unacceptable”. He denied RC-A711’s suggestion that he was ‘shutting her down’ and told us that he was trying to avoid complicating what was already “a very complicated nexus of connections and feedback”.[21]

50. As Cardinal Nichols accepted in evidence, the subject access request also revealed that he was not prepared to engage with RC-A711.[22]

Emails between Ellen Dunleavy and Cardinal Nichols in September 2018
Emails between Ellen Dunleavy and Cardinal Nichols in September 2018
Source: INQ004693

When asked about this, Cardinal Nichols said that at the time his priority was to meet with victims who wished to talk about the impact of abuse, whereas RC-A711 wanted to raise shortcomings relating to the safeguarding staff. He accepted that RC-A711 had not been given this explanation.[23] RC-A711 stated this was:

an artificial distinction to make, that he feels he can categorise me as … having less of a story. All of this is the continuation of an awful, awful experience”.[24]

Meeting with Cardinal Nichols

51. In January 2019, RC-A711 asked to meet Cardinal Nichols as she thought the findings of the Abrams report and her own experience might be helpful for the Protection of Minors meeting taking place in Rome in February 2019. She was told:

The Cardinal has had a number of meetings with survivors of childhood sexual abuse prior to the meeting in February. His Eminence’s diary is very full between now and that meeting. However, if you wish to note, in writing, any key points that you would like the Cardinal to bear in mind for the meeting, I am sure that he would be grateful to receive them.[25]

She asked that Cardinal Nichols read the report, adding:

The report raises the question – who is being safeguarded/protected – the Church or the survivor? It would be really helpful to think that the Church today is willing to listen to survivors and is not just dismissing us. Sadly, that is not my experience at all and the Cardinal declining my offer to meet highlights this even more.[26]

52. On Cardinal Nichols’ return from Rome, she again requested that he meet her and sent him the product of the subject access request. By this time, RC-A711 had approached a newspaper which reported that Cardinal Nichols had declined to meet her. It was then that she received an invitation to meet him. RC-A711 said that she didn’t know if the newspaper article prompted the invitation; she thought that it might have been the comments in the subject access request.[27] The meeting itself took place in April 2019 and focussed on the comments in the emails. It was followed by a letter apologising for the language used in the emails: “I regret deeply the hurt that those words have caused you”.[28]

53. RC-A711 told us that although she found meeting Cardinal Nichols face-to-face “helpful”, she felt it was about “damage limitation”.[29] She also said that the apology only came about:

because they were found out … those remarks and the Cardinal’s unwillingness to engage with me should actually never, ever have happened, and I think that’s the scandal of it, really.[30]

54. Cardinal Nichols told us that he had publicly offered to meet with victims and “will continue to meet with survivors in the future”.[31] Yet, as the subject access request reveals, in September 2018 he decided not to engage with RC-A711. In RC-A711’s case, Cardinal Nichols failed to take account of or to understand the effect of his behaviour on her.

55. She described her experience of the Diocese of Westminster as “an exhausting battle”, adding they were “re-traumatising me, and, in that sense, re-abusing”.[32] She said:

Over the best part of two and half years, I came face to face with the Church at its most defensive and protective of its own.[33]

56. More generally, RC-A711’s experience demonstrates the need for the Church to have in place a complaints procedure for complaints about the safeguarding team. Mrs Edina Carmi, an independent safeguarding consultant commissioned by the Inquiry to undertake a review of a number of recent diocesan and religious safeguarding files, recommended that such a procedure would “provide learning and improvement.[34]

References

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