Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report

C.4: Relationship between the Archdiocese and COPCA

41. From its creation in 2002 to 2007, COPCA was the national advisory body for the Roman Catholic Church. Advice could be sought on a voluntary basis and there was no obligation on any part of the Church to seek advice or refer any case to COPCA.[61]

42. As part of this case study, through the case of RC‑F167, the Inquiry examined the working relationship between the Archdiocese of Birmingham and COPCA and its successor, Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS). This was of particular importance because, between 2001 and 2008, Archbishop Nichols was Chair of the COPCA management board as well as the Archbishop of Birmingham.


43. In 1985, RC‑F167 was working as a teacher at a school within the Archdiocese of Birmingham when he was accused of indecently assaulting two young pupils. The boys alleged that he touched their bottoms and genital areas over clothing. RC‑F167 resigned from the school.

44. He began training for the priesthood in 1986. During the course of his application to become a priest, RC‑F167 was asked about his resignation from the school. He explained that he had been accused of touching the bottoms of some boys and is recorded as saying “he could not honestly deny doing this, but that it was an involuntary action with no malicious intent”.[62] RC‑F167 said because he could not deny it and did not want to bring adverse publicity for the school, he resigned. Beyond asking him about his resignation, the Archdiocese appears to have taken ineffective action to ascertain whether he posed a risk to children. He was ordained in 1990.

45. In 1997, the two boys, now men, reported the matter to the police. RC‑F167 was interviewed by the police and denied sexual assault. In August 1997, the Archdiocese put RC‑F167 on administrative leave and prohibited him from carrying out any public duties as a priest. In February 1998, the Crown Court ruled that RC‑F167 could not receive a fair trial and the case was ‘stayed’ by the court,[63] which meant that the proceedings could not continue. RC‑F167 therefore could not be prosecuted.

46. In April 1998, RC‑F167 was appointed to a parish affiliated to a large primary school.[64] A month later, the Child Protection Advisory Group recommended that RC‑F167 “undergo a full psychological/psychosexual assessment before being assigned further duties”.[65] The report was completed on 11 December 1998 and recommended that RC‑F167 did not return to a position where he had unsupervised access to children.[66] Three days later the Vicar General received a complaint from a school headteacher that RC‑F167 had asked inappropriate questions to two boys during confession. The Archdiocese spoke with the headteacher of the school and the matter was referred to the police and social services that same day.[67]

47. RC‑F167 was again put on administrative leave. He declined the Archdiocese’s offer of counselling. In a joint interview by the police and social services, RC‑F167 categorically denied using sexual terminology or making any sexual references with any child during confession.[68] The police investigation resulted in no further action being taken in relation to the complaints about confession.[69] In 1999, RC‑F167 decided not to return to active ministry and he subsequently resigned from his parish.

48. By 2004, RC‑F167 was working as a teacher again.[70] As part of his application to become a teacher, RC‑F167 was required to undergo a ‘DBS check’. Enquiries with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) revealed that when the check was undertaken in July 2002, only certain case disposals would have been recorded and so the 1998 stayed court case did not appear on RC‑F167’s records.[71]

The sharing of information between the Archdiocese and COPCA

49. On 15 January 2004, Mrs Jones sought advice from COPCA, and spoke with Ms Penny Nicholson, a member of COPCA staff. Mrs Jones informed COPCA that the Archdiocese knew a former priest – the subject of allegations of indecent assault in the 1980s and a further investigation in 1998 involving alleged inappropriate comments to children – was now teaching again and she wanted to know who or which agency should be informed. The COPCA referral form states “Jane does not feel able to give a name for this man or further detail without reporting back to the Archbishop”.[72] Ms Nicholson told her that it was not COPCA’s policy to deal with referrals without a name but did go on to advise that the name of the alleged perpetrator should be shared with the statutory agencies in order to protect children. On 29 January 2004, Mrs Jones informed the police that RC‑F167 was working in a school and that he had been the subject of previous allegations and complaints. Shortly thereafter RC‑F167 resigned as teacher.

50. In January and February 2004 there was correspondence between the Archdiocese and COPCA about whether the Archdiocese needed to provide a name when seeking advice from COPCA. Mrs Jones said the Birmingham Child Protection Commission had taken the view that it was not necessary to provide the name of the alleged perpetrator. Ms Nicholson repeated her advice that the provision of the name was essential for child protection. Mrs Shearer became involved. She said she had spoken to Archbishop Nichols to explain the basis of the requirement to provide names when making referrals.[73] Mrs Shearer recalled she met with Archbishop Nichols to discuss this issue and that the Archbishop had not “dissented” from the need for names to be provided. For that reason, Mrs Shearer told us she was puzzled as to why this issue was not resolved sooner.[74]

51. Mrs Jones made another referral to COPCA in January 2005 and did not provide the name of the alleged perpetrator. The Archdiocese had reported the matter, including the name of the alleged perpetrator, to the relevant statutory authorities. On 3 March 2005 Mrs Shearer wrote to Mrs Jones requesting that COPCA be provided with both names. The letter states that Mrs Jones had explained she was withholding the names because “this was not a referral but rather a policy query”.[75]

52. The Birmingham Child Protection Commission (the predecessor of the Archdiocese Safeguarding Commission[76]) met on 15 March 2005. Mrs Jones told the commission that she was being asked formally to provide names of alleged perpetrators. The commission disagreed and said it was “inappropriate and possibly illegal for files to be generated in this way[77] and that based on its collective experience of working with statutory agencies, there was no requirement to provide a name.

53. On 13 May 2005 Archbishop Nichols chaired the COPCA Management Board and Mrs Shearer proposed what was called a ‘Duty Service Protocol’. Paragraph 4.2 of the protocol required that “details of the alleged abuser/s and alleged victim/s will be obtained, and COPCA files will be cross-referenced and checked for previous contacts before advice is provided”.[78] The Management Board agreed to the protocol being issued. Mrs Shearer told us that this protocol was proposed as a result of the disagreement that had taken place between COPCA and the Archdiocese of Birmingham, which was the only Archdiocese to object to sharing this information.[79] The correspondence continued into summer 2006. The duty service protocol therefore had no impact on the Archdiocesan Commission’s position.[80] By the time Mrs Shearer left her post in 2007, the issue had still not been resolved.[81] She said no action could be taken to enforce compliance with the protocol other than to repeat the points she was making to the Archdiocese.[82]

54. Mrs Shearer told us that she believed Mrs Jones did not want to pass on names of accused individuals to COPCA, and that she and Archbishop Nichols did not think that COPCA were “part of the professional confidentiality boundary around all child protection matters”.[83] She felt there was a desire to keep COPCA at a distance from the work of child protection in the Archdiocese,[84] and that the Archbishop did not think she had a mandate to discuss how child protection was working in the Archdiocese.[85] Mrs Jones was asked whether she thought the name should be provided. She said she could not now recall what she thought but thought she probably agreed with what the Commission members were telling her.[86]

55. Mrs Shearer did not agree with the Commission’s view that it was illegal to generate such records. The information was held securely and confidentially.[87] The Nolan report had highlighted the disparate and fluid nature of the Church, with instances of abusers moving between parts of the Church. In light of that, Mrs Shearer considered that it was best practice for COPCA to be given the required information so it could be properly considered in the event of any future enquiry. It was important to have as much information as possible when assessing risk in a particular case[88] and therefore she considered that this requirement was necessary in the interests of protecting children.

56. Archbishop Nichols accepted that the duty service protocol, although not a national policy, was a procedural agreement that should be followed if an archdiocese or diocese were to seek advice from COPCA.[89] He said, from his point of view, “it was a clear position that the Birmingham Diocesan Commission took that they did not think it was necessary to disclose the name”.[90] He did not think that it was a matter on which he should intervene and thought that the Commission had the right to disagree with COPCA.[91] He said it would have been unwise as Archbishop to compel the Commission to follow the COPCA duty service protocol as to do so would undermine the independence of the Commission. He did not consider the provision of a name to COPCA to be a matter “of any great substance[92] and stated that, had the dispute related to a major matter, he probably would have intervened.

57. Archbishop Nichols said he did not wish to overstate the impact of the disagreement between the Commission and COPCA. However, this simple issue being incapable of resolution is indicative of a lack of cooperation between COPCA and the Archdiocese, where a good working relationship was essential. COPCA was established, post-Nolan, with the specific remit of providing advice and guidance. Whether it was a national policy or not, the subsequent duty service protocol made it plain that a name should be provided. The minutes of the Commission’s meetings in March 2005 do not provide any clear rationale behind the Commission’s decision not to provide COPCA with the name.

58. Archbishop Nichols should have intervened to ensure that the dispute was resolved and to ensure compliance with the COPCA protocol. His failure to intervene contributed to the two-year-long exchange of correspondence which was time-consuming for those involved and contributed to the difficult relationship between the Archdiocese and COPCA.

Back to top