A victim of clerical sexual abuse who gave evidence to the IICSA regarding her molestation and subsequent maltreatment by leaders and safeguarding officials of the Church is contemplating legal action against the Archdiocese of Westminster.
The Times reported Sunday that the victim has sent a letter threatening suit against the Archdiocese of Westminster, for personal injury. She says she was “re-traumatised” by Church safeguarding staff after she reported her abuse.
The victim’s complaint and Westminster’s response
Identified as A711 in IICSA documents, the woman told the Inquiry she felt as though the Church passed her from “pillar to post” after she made her allegations. She also eventually discovered Church safeguarding email correspondence in which various officials described her as “deeply manipulative” and “needy”.
IICSA concluded that the language Church officials entertained in her regards was “disrespectful”.
IICSA also concluded that the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, failed to demonstrate “personal responsibility” or “compassion” in dealing with abuse survivors. IICSA said it appeared as though “he cares more about the impact of child sexual abuse on the Catholic church’s reputation than on victims and survivors.”
“All my client wanted was to be treated fairly and decently by the Church, in accordance with their duty of care to her as an abuse survivor,” the victim’s solicitor, Richard Scorer, told the Catholic Herald, “but their disgraceful behaviour ended up causing her serious harm.”
“As a result,” Scorer said, “my client has been forced to seek redress in the courts, not least so to ensure that other survivors are not treated in this appalling way.”
Scorer maintained that the blame for this situation “lies with the staff in the Archdiocese who behaved in a completely unprofessional way in this case, but most of all it lies with Cardinal Nichols.” Scorer said the Archbishop of Westminster “presided over a dysfunctional safeguarding operation in his own backyard, failed to display even basic leadership by rooting out this unacceptable behaviour, and himself behaving in a dismissive way towards our client.”
Scorer also said it is his hope “that this action will prompt some soul searching by the Church, and ensure better handling of cases in the future.”
Cardinal Nichols — against whom the planned lawsuit reportedly alleges no personal liability — has admitted to failures in his dealings with abuse victims. “I failed in this,” Cardinal Nichols told IICSA in response to a question about his handling of A711’s case. “I failed to sustain this person in a difficult period in their life,” he said.
“The Cardinal apologised to A711 in person when he met her in April 2019,” a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Westminster told the Catholic Herald, “and subsequently in a letter to her.”
IICSA records show that A711 sought an in-person meeting with Cardinal Nichols ahead of the February 2019 meeting on safeguarding in the Vatican. “The Cardinal has had a number of meetings with survivors of childhood sexual abuse prior to the meeting in February,” his secretary informed A711 in an email. “His Eminence’s diary is very full between now and that meeting.”
“However,” the secretary’s response continued, “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.” A711 asked that Cardinal Nichols read the report of independent investigating officer Karen Abrams, which had found that “the safeguarding coordinator failed to respond appropriately to RC-A711; 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’.”
“As A711 is now seeking civil redress,” the statement from Westminster continued, “the matter is in the hands of legal representatives, and so no further comment is appropriate at this stage.”
A711 received compensation from her abuser’s order in 2018.
The Sunday Times said A711 began to consider a lawsuit after it became apparent that Cardinal Nichols would remain Archbishop of Westminster notwithstanding the IICSA report. “[T]o find that the Church should lack compassion, that members of the institution are talking about you in this way, you realise it is much bigger than one individual”, she told The Times.
The Catholic Herald has heard that A711’s abuser is currently barred from all ministry and is voluntarily seeking a dispensation from the obligations of Holy Orders — “voluntary laicisation” in Church parlance — and that his case would have gone to Rome, had he not sought release from the clerical state. The Herald has reported on the practice of letting credibly accused priests request laicisation as a way of quietly dealing with abuse cases.
A711’s allegations to IICSA
The victim told IICSA that she suffered abuse from a Servite priest that began in the 1970s, when she was aged 15 years, and that her abuser – IICSA cipher RCF500 – raped her when she was 24. IICSA transcripts also record A711 alleging that another priest witnessed the abuse taking place on at least one occasion, and “simply turned around and walked out again without a word.”
A711 reported her abuse to Church authorities in 2016. Her case went from her home diocese to the Archdiocese of Westminster “a few months after she came forward,” according to IICSA records.
“A church safeguarding coordinator contacted her and said she could either go the criminal route or let the church investigate her allegations,” IICSA transcripts record. “She told the panel on 29 October that it was suggested to her it would be a less stressful experience to let the Church, rather than the police, investigate, so of course she did.”
Church reform efforts
Since 2016, when A711 first brought her complaints to the attention of ecclesiastical authorities, the Church in England and Wales has been the subject of intense public scrutiny. The Independent Inquiry was among the factors that pushed Church leadership to undertake what the bishops have called a “root and branch” rethinking of their approach to safeguarding.
Almost a full year before the publication of the IICSA report, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales commissioned Ian Elliott to conduct an independent review of the Church’s safeguarding structures and arrangements.
That review resulted in a series of recommendations, which the bishops have accepted, including the creation of a Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency separate from the bishops’ conference and invested with regulatory function, and a National Tribunal Service for England and Wales, through which Church law could be more uniformly and transparently applied.
The Elliott Review recommended analogous structures for secular clergy and religious.
In January of this year announced that Dr Edward Morgan – a barrister and judge of the Salford ecclesiastical tribunal – would oversee the establishment of the National Tribunal Service. Also in January, the bishops announced that Fr David Smolira SJ, a trained counsellor with decades of experience in safeguarding, would oversee the new safeguarding body for the religious of England and Wales.
The bishops of England and Wales announced on 8 December 2020 that Carol Lawrence – Financial Director of the Diocese of Shrewsbury – would join the implementation team as Director. The team also includes Dr Colette Limbrick, an experienced social worker who previously served in the CSSA predecessor body, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service.
Since then, the CSSA Implementation Team have been engaged in recruitment, drafting plans, and crafting procedures. They have made progress reports in a newsletter published every two weeks.