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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Investigation Report

Contents

J.4: A recent example: RC-A710

Background

32. In the mid-2000s, RC-A710 reported to the police that she had been sexually abused as a child by Michael Hill, a former priest.[1] In 2008, RC-A710 also alleged that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (Archbishop of Westminster from 2000 to 2009, who died in 2017) had been present and involved in the abuse by Hill.[2] As part of the police investigation, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was interviewed. He denied the allegations and, in due course, the police took no further action.

33. In February 2011, confidential and sensitive documents about RC-A710’s allegations were hand-delivered to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. In May 2011, Cardinal Nichols was asked by the CDF to provide an opinion (votum) about the allegations against Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor.[3] Cardinal Nichols said that having considered the evidence, including the findings of the police investigation and independent Preliminary Enquiry commissioned by CSAS, he considered that the matter “should now be regarded as completed and closed”.[4] On 28 June 2011, the CDF wrote to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor confirming that it agreed with Cardinal Nichols’ view.

34. In September 2018, details of RC-A710’s confidential account were leaked to the media with widespread reporting across Europe (Italy in particular), the US and the UK. Angela McGrory, the then safeguarding coordinator for the Diocese of Portsmouth, provided RC-A710 with pastoral support. Ms McGrory told us that some individuals within the Church “who had never met her had sought to brand her as non-credible and her account as sensational”.[5] Ms McGrory said that RC-A710 was “alarmed and understandably hurt” that “intimate” details of her account had been leaked.[6]

35. Throughout her dealings with the Church, RC-A710 was supported by Bishop Philip Egan, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Portsmouth safeguarding coordinator, and her former parish priest, now Bishop Peter Doyle (the Bishop of Northampton). Bishop Doyle told us that the leak caused RC-A710 “much distress” and he thought that she was owed an apology.[7] Her experience thereafter provided the Inquiry with an opportunity to examine the Church’s contemporary response to RC-A710’s case and the issue of apologies.

The Church’s response to the leak

36. Following the leak, Bishop Egan thought that Cardinal Nichols should issue an apology and, if not him, that the Diocese of Portsmouth should apologise.[8] He was told that the Diocese of Westminster wished him to say and do nothing about the case and that they would assume responsibility for handling the matter.[9] Bishop Egan said he thought Westminster’s interest in this matter arose out of the Vigano affair.

37. During his evidence, Cardinal Nichols explained the Vigano affair. He told us that in August and September 2018, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the former Apostolic Nuncio to the US, published letters on two major American websites attacking Pope Francis.[10] One letter claimed that Pope Francis had blocked the investigation into the allegations against Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. Although neither letter referred to any confidential information about RC-A710, Cardinal Nichols told us that further media reporting included leaked confidential information about the handling of RC-A710’s case.[11]

38. Bishop Egan was approached by the press for a response about the leak and decided first to visit RC-A710.[12] During that visit he apologised to RC-A710 for the leak. Following the visit, Bishop Egan thought it appropriate to write a letter to Cardinal Nichols asking him to reopen and review the case.[13] He thought the letter to Cardinal Nichols would have more weight if it also came from Bishop Doyle.

39. In addition to the letter, Bishop Doyle and Bishop Egan agreed that a statement should be drafted which repeated the apology and noted “the consequent damage from comments in the digital media about the survivor, who is known to be a credible witness”.[14] Both bishops were advised against issuing any statement as it was felt a statement “would be detrimental for RC-A710 and could “possibly create a national and international response, for which they didn’t have the resources to cope”.[15]

Involvement of the Diocese of Westminster

40. The bishops’ letter (which did not include the draft statement) was hand-delivered to Cardinal Nichols during the safeguarding training that took place in Valladolid in Spain in early May 2019.[16] In addition to requesting a review of RC-A710’s case, it requested:

More specifically, may we ask you, in your role as Chair of the Bishops’ Conference, to write to [RC-A710] on behalf of the Church in our land to express an apology for the leak of information and for the distress it will have caused her? Indeed, I wonder too whether you might even consider yourself making a visit to [RC-A710]. We are both sure it would bring her great healing and solace.[17]

41. Whilst in Valladolid, RC-A710’s case was discussed. Cardinal Nichols told us that he agreed he would meet with RC-A710 and that Baroness Nuala O’Loan (chair of the Catholic Council for IICSA) would review the paperwork about the case.

42. We were told that, in July 2019, the Portsmouth safeguarding commission recommended to the trustees of the Portsmouth Diocese that a statement should be published. On the advice of the communications officer, the trustees decided that a statement should not be published.[18]

43. Bishop Doyle said that he decided unilaterally to publish his own statement.[19] It read:

In September 2018, confidential information requested by me and submitted with trust to the Church was leaked to the media by an unknown source. I want to apologise for the distress and further abuse this leak caused, abuse which was further exacerbated by the responses to the leak published in the press and the digital media. The survivor and alleged victim is a person of integrity and credibility.[20]

44. The draft statement was sent to Alexander DesForges, Director of News and Information at the Bishops’ Conference. Bishop Doyle told us that he spoke with Mr DesForges, who accepted that something needed to be done on RC-A710’s behalf “but it was his opinion that the statement would be used by sections of the media internationally to get at Pope Francis”.[21]

45. Bishop Doyle told us he also discussed the draft statement with Cardinal Nichols. According to Bishop Doyle, the Cardinal said that the draft statement “asked more questions than it answered” and “again voiced his concern for A710 and thought there were too many unknowns”.[22] One apparent unknown was the origin of the leak. Bishop Doyle agreed the leak had not come from RC-A710 and so could only have come from a Church source in London or Rome.[23] Bishop Doyle felt that a meeting with Cardinal Nichols and Baroness O’Loan would be “much more helpful than a statement coming from me which might disappear into the stratosphere and so decided not to publish his statement.[24]

July 2019 email to RC-A710

46. On 15 July 2019, Bishop Doyle emailed RC-A710 to explain why he had decided not to issue his own personal statement. He told her about his discussions with Cardinal Nichols and wrote:

The Cardinal … said that the statement raised more questions which media agencies like Lifesite News in the States would take up in their campaign against the Holy Father. By the end of that conversation I was convinced that a statement would not be the answer for us.[25]

47. Bishop Doyle accepted that his email conveyed the impression that it was Cardinal Nichols’ concern for the Pope that had persuaded him not to issue the statement. He said “that wasn’t … the entire basis of why I made that decision” and told us that a combination of Cardinal Nichols’ concern for RC-A710 and his willingness to meet her, along with his own discussions with Cardinal Nichols, underpinned his decision to not issue the statement.[26]

48. Cardinal Nichols told us that Mr DesForges’ concern was that Bishop Doyle’s statement would cause “world-wide, or wide interest” which Mr DesForges “did not feel he could defend, but would be left to defend”. Cardinal Nichols did not recall he (or Mr DesForges) talking Bishop Doyle out of it; they were “essentially reiterating the discussion and conclusions reached at Valladolid”.[27] He said his overriding focus had been on RC-A710’s welfare. He feared that a statement “would lead to a further barrage of questions and speculation” which would be damaging to her, and he was looking for the best way forward for her. Cardinal Nichols did not accept that his reluctance publicly to support RC-A710 was about “putting the reputation of the Church first or about PR people driving safeguarding”.[28]

49. When asked about Bishop Doyle’s email referencing his conversation, Cardinal Nichols told us that he recalled the conversation also covered RC-A710’s well-being which was his “substantial concern”. He added that the conversation was substantially about her, although “It did not exclude the evident and obvious fact that further publicity would be used to attack Pope Francis”.[29]

50. Cardinal Nichols said he could not explain why Bishop Doyle did not include the most important aspect of their conversation, ie that Cardinal Nichols was more concerned about her welfare than the campaign against the Pope. He said, “I can’t answer for Bishop Doyle”, repeating that his concern throughout had been for RC-A710 and adding that “Pope Francis is quite capable of looking after himself”.[30]

51. While we accept that in the course of his July conversation with Bishop Doyle, Cardinal Nichols raised concerns for RC-A710, the primary focus of Cardinal Nichols’ concern was the impact of Bishop Doyle’s statement on the reputation of the Church and the Pope. This is evident from the focus Bishop Doyle himself placed on that aspect of their conversation in the email he sent to RC-A710 on 15 July 2019.[31]

Meeting and apologising to RC-A710

52. Cardinal Nichols was asked whether, in May 2019, there had been any difficulty about sending RC-A710 a letter of apology for the leak and the obvious distress it had caused her. He said “I could have done that, yes” but said he did not do so as he left Valladolid “with an alternative pathway” – a personal meeting with RC-A710 – which he hoped would be more effective.[32]

53. Cardinal Nichols did not accept failing to sustain RC-A710 in a difficult period of her life. He did not accept that he had let her down or left her without support. He added:

I think she’s had substantial, fundamental, unfailing support given in the name of the Church”.[33]

He said that he could not support an objective statement of her credibility but did regret that the leaks occurred.

54. When asked what he had done to establish if the CDF or the police in the Vatican had investigated the leak, Cardinal Nichols said that he did not know if they were conducting an investigation. He had not asked.

Q. Do you not think you ought to have done?

A. I could do so.

Q. I know you could do so, but do you not think you ought to have done?

A. I hesitate to say this, but the leaking of information, gossip, is rife in … across Rome and the Holy See.

Q. This isn’t gossip, Cardinal … You couldn’t imagine a more highly sensitive, confidential and damaging exposure to a victim or survivor of sexual abuse … That is not gossip, by any person’s definition, is it?

A. It’s the leaking of information.

Q. Are you not prepared to agree with me?

A. It’s not gossip, it’s the leaking of information.

Q. Highly sensitive and confidential information?

A. Highly sensitive and confidential and, at the point at which it occurred, the target was Pope Francis and the person whose confidence had been betrayed explicitly was Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.[34]

55. This exchange reveals Cardinal Nichols’ primary motivation and views about this incident; he was particularly concerned about the impact the leak would have on the reputation of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, rather than the impact the disclosure of RC-A710’s personal information had on her. In the 13 months between the leak and the final public hearing, RC-A710 had not received an apology from Cardinal Nichols. It appears that he did not do so as a result of his misplaced desire to give priority to the protection of the reputation of the Church, the Pope and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor.

56. Cardinal Nichols told us that he had a meeting with RC-A710 scheduled for December 2019.[35] In April 2020, we were told that Cardinal Nichols had commissioned an inquiry to “try and ascertain whether there was a leak of information relating to RC-A710 from the Church in England and Wales”.[36] In June 2020, Cardinal Nichols was told that the investigation was “unable to conclusively identify the source of the disclosure”. The report stated “our findings exonerate” the bishops, the safeguarding coordinators and their teams, the trustees and the safeguarding commissions of the Dioceses of Brighton and Arundel, Portsmouth, Northampton and Westminster.[37] Frustratingly for RC-A710, the source of the leak remains unknown.

References

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