Birmingham Archdiocese ‘ignored abuse to protect reputation’

Father John Tolkien Image copyright BPM Media
Image caption Birmingham Archdiocese allegedly knew about abuse by Father John Tolkien in the 1950s

Children could have been saved from abuse if the Church had focused less on its reputation, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has said.

More than 130 allegations of abuse were made against 78 individuals associated with Birmingham’s Catholic Church.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols – the city’s archbishop between 2000 and 2009 – was accused of focusing on reputation rather than the impact of abuse.

He denied a cover-up, but allegations were found to have been “ignored”.

Image caption The report said Cardinal Vincent Nichols was too focused on reputation

“I am truly shocked by the scale of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Birmingham,” the inquiry’s chair, Professor Alexis Jay, said.

The report concluded that “children could have been saved from abuse if the Church had not been so determined to protect its reputation”.

Father John Tolkien – son of novelist JRR Tolkien – was said to have admitted abusing boys in Sparkhill, Birmingham, in the 1950s.

The archdiocese was apparently aware of the alleged abuse but did not report it until decades later.

Former boy scout Christopher Carrie, from Solihull, was given £15,000 in compensation in 2003 after he sued the archdiocese.

Image copyright BPM Media
Image caption Father Tolkien was deemed too ill to be charged after an investigation into abuse in the Church

At the time, the Crown Prosecution Service said Father Tolkien was too ill to be charged, and he died later that year.

Cardinal Nichols – now the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales – appeared before the inquiry in December. He was asked if he had suppressed a note which suggested Father Tolkien admitted an allegation of abuse in 1968 and was sent for treatment.

The note was made by Archbishop of Birmingham Maurice Couve de Murville as part of a 1993 investigation but no action was taken either in 1968 or in 1993.

This “lack of action by the Church meant that abusers were free to continue committing acts of child sexual abuse,” the inquiry found.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The inquiry looked at allegations in Birmingham’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese

As well as Father Tolkien, the investigation focused on three other priests: James Robinson, Samuel Penney, and one who remains anonymous.

Father Robinson, described as a serial child abuser, was moved from parish to parish after complaints were first made against him in the 1980s. The police were never informed and there was no internal, church-led investigation.

He fled the UK in 1985 – later to be tracked down by the BBC at a caravan park in California – after being confronted by a victim.

Despite multiple allegations against him, he continued to receive financial support from the Archdiocese for seven years.

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