The Archbishop of Westminster has admitted that he did not properly handle an accusation of abuse in his archdiocese, as he also rejected calls for priests to violate the seal of confession.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said during an independent inquiry hearing earlier this week that he “failed” a woman who claimed she was sexually abused by a member of the Servite Order. Nichols did not answer her emails, and agreed that he effectively “shut out” the victim from any assistance.
The first Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse hearing was held in 2016. The IICSA works to investigate child sexual abuse in various institutions throughout the UK, including the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and by members of parliament.
The alleged victim in this particular instance said she did not want compensation or a lawsuit, but instead wanted to her complaint to be acknowledged by the archdiocese. Nichols told the inquiry that he did not believe it was his job to “adjudicate” parishioner reports of sexual misconduct by clergy within his archdiocese.
The inquiry also requested an explanation about why the alleged victim was described as “passive aggressive” and “deeply manipulative” by priests and officials in the archdiocese. Nichols said he did not address the matter with the priest who called her those names, but he has met with her and now realizes that he mishandled her complaint.
Nichols also elaborated that he also has accepted that child abuse is a widespread problem among the Catholic Church, but that it had been very challenging for him to reach this point.
“Over the past 20 years the experience in this country is that we have been struggling to cope with the presence of evil embodied in [the Church’s] own members which has shocked us to the core,” said Nichols.
On Friday, during another IICSA hearing, Nichols stated that priests would sooner die than violate the seal of confession, and that the government should not move to make priests mandatory reporters.
If this were to happen, said Nichols, “it would put every priest in this country in a position of great liability” because due to the seal of confession, they would not be able to defend themselves against false accusations that they had confessed sexual crimes to a priest.
Nichols added that not only had he never heard a penitent confess to pedophilia, but also he has never heard a victim of child sexual abuse describe their abuse in the confessional. He told the hearing that he thought it would be highly unlikely that a child abuser would move to go to confession, particularly if they did not believe their conduct was a sin.
Nichols rejected the suggestion that the seal of confession be voted on by the country’s bishops’ conference, saying that it would be outright rejected.
“I would defend the seal of confession absolutely,” said Nichols, who added that history has seen many priests who have been killed over refusing to reveal what they learned in a confession.
“It might come to that. But the seal of confession is of a sacred nature and its at the heart of the priest ministry acting in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Nichols explained to the hearing that “the seal of confession is an essential part of the exercise of priesthood as a nexus between my sinful humanity and the mercy of God,” and that he would continue to defend the existence of the seal.
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