Cardinal Nichols criticised for ‘Mafia-esque’ question-blocking during apology to abuse victims

Cardinal Nichols has been criticised by child sexual abuse victims following a “Mafia-esque” blocking of questions during a “meaningless” press conference to offer his apology.

Earlier this month the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concluded that Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who acts as the Pope’s representative in England and Wales, failed to show "personal responsibility and compassion" for victims, and instead prioritised Church reputation.

It also found that between 1970 and 2015 there were more than 900 complaints involving over 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse, and since 2016, there have been more than 100 reported allegations each year. 

On Friday morning, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales held a press conference, which required the media to register and was not open to members of the public, to unveil its new safeguarding procedures and ask abuse victims for forgiveness for causing "wounds of permanent damage". 

Cardinal Nichols told the press conference that “abuse is a terrible wickedness”, adding: “I am so sorry for all that has happened over these years”. 

However he refused to take questions specifically regarding IICSA’s critical findings, prompting claims from victims that his apology is “meaningless”. 

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols

Credit: David Rose /David Rose 

Alexander DesForges, Cardinal Nichols’ press secretary, asked journalists to submit their questions in writing during the online conference – which were visible to all 35 people present – and failed to select those which were directly critical of the Cardinal. 

Instead, Mr DesForges allowed some journalists to ask multiple questions, and muted those who interrupted the online conference in a bid to get answers.

Responding to the incident, one survivor of abuse in the Catholic Church who gave evidence to the IICSA said:”It’s just awful. It’s Mafia-esque. It just smacks of what the Church has been found to be doing by the Inquiry – which is protecting its reputation at all costs. That’s what they’ve done this morning. 

“They protect Vincent Nichols by shutting down any questions about his role in this and I think until there’s a change in leadership, any statements that are made are meaningless. 

“In not allowing journalists to answer questions that they would like to ask themselves and on their behalf, it’s just another form of silencing victims from speaking out.”

Mr DesForges told the press conference that all questions had been answered and muted The Telegraph following an attempt to ask Cardinal Nichols questions. 

Following Friday’s press conference, Richard Scorer, solicitor at Slater and Gordon who represents 32 survivors of Catholic Church abuse in IICSA, said: “The attempt by the Cardinal’s press officer to prevent questions by journalists is an absolute disgrace, and indicative of an authoritarian mindset which seeks to silence any questioning or accountability – precisely the mentality which created the abuse crisis in the first place. It confirms the Cardinal’s total unfitness for office. 

“The Cardinal’s attitude seems to be that if he avoids questions, this will go away. It won’t. Survivors are determined to ensure that the hierarchy is held to account. 

“Their courageous campaigning will continue, and church leaders will not escape accountability by hiding from public view.”

In response, Mr DesForges said: “I am sorry you feel your question was not answered previously” citing reasons of “limited time”. 

“I can only apologise for any misunderstanding around the press conference…  Cardinal Nichols has given substantive answers to questions about his position.” 

In its final review of the Catholic Church, the government-ordered IICSA found that it “betrayed” its moral purpose by prioritising its reputation above children who had been sexually abused by priests. 

“Child sexual abuse,” the damning 162-page report concluded, “was swept under the carpet”, as authorities “turned a blind eye and failed to take action against perpetrators”.

Furthermore, the Inquiry found that the Holy See and the Apostolic Nuncio, its ambassador to the UK, did not provide a witness statement to the Inquiry despite repeated requests. 

They had been asked about the Apostolic Nuncio’s involvement in handling child sexual abuse allegations at Ealing Abbey, as well as other issues. The Inquiry said it “could not understand their lack of cooperation”.

Despite facing calls to resign from victims following the publication of the report, Cardinal Nichols said he would continue in his role as Archbishop of Westminster. He offered his resignation to the Pope when he turned 75, in accordance with custom, and which occurred on the day the IICSA report was published.

However, it remains unknown whether the Cardinal discussed the forthcoming IICSA report with Pope Francis when he offered his resignation.

Cardinal Nichols has also yet to respond to the IICSA’s criticism of the Holy See.