Catholic community in the UK struggling to cope with 'presence of evil embodied in its members' for 20 years, Cardinal Nichols tells inquiry

Gabriella Swerling
The Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols  - Getty Images Europe

The Catholic community in the UK has been struggling to cope with “presence of evil embodied in its members” for decades, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales has told an inquiry into child sexual abuse. 

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols was talking about the lessons he learned from attending a worldwide summit held for senior Roman Catholic bishops on tackling the global problem.

He told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) he attended the global conference in Rome in February, along with around 200 other delegates.

Cardinal Nichols said the church in this country had already implemented some of the measures discussed there.

Speaking about the Catholic church in this country, the lead counsel for the inquiry Brian Altman QC asked: "Did you come away thinking first of all, we haven't done enough?"

Cardinal Nichols said in some aspects, that was right, citing the example of a Bishop from Puerto Rico who encouraged the topic of child safeguarding to be spoken about in every parish.

Cardinal Nichols said: "I think we should do more in the general life of our parishes to set the task of safeguarding in a more positive context.

"I think the experience in the Catholic community in this country over the last 20 years has been one of struggling to cope with the presence of evil embodied in its members, which has shocked it to the core."

He added: "I think getting the task of safeguarding understood in an utterly positive way is something we still have to achieve."

Mr Altman asked if the cardinal believed there was still much to improve in 2019, despite major inquiries held in 2001 and 2007.

The Archbishop of Westminster, aged 73, replied: "I do think there's plenty to be achieved.

"I would affirm absolutely that the culture of the Catholic church today is radically different from 2001 or even 2007, but I do think there's much, much more to achieve."

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon who acts for 27 victims of Catholic church abuse in the inquiry, said:  “Cardinal Nichols’s evidence will cut little ice with victims.

“The Catholic church has spent the last two decades promising to get safeguarding right, but the evidence in this inquiry has exposed  these promises as so much hot air.

“Despite all the rhetoric, there is no “one church” approach to safeguarding; improvements have been lamentably slow; treatment of survivors has been consistently poor, including in Cardinal Nichols’s own diocese; and it is clear that culturally and structurally the Catholic church is simply incapable of delivering the changes survivors need.

“It is now crystal clear that only mandatory reporting and external oversight by a state body can force through the necessary changes, and we urge the inquiry to recommend these changes without delay”.

“I know Nichols is giving evidence this afternoon as well so he’s happy to send something fresh through later but didn’t know when you’d be filing.”