WESTMINSTER, England (ChurchMilitant.com) - A victim of clergy rape, who is set to sue Westminster archdiocesan staff for "re-traumatizing" her, has slammed England's top cardinal for presiding over a process that left her feeling disrespected from "pillar to post."
"I believe that my case highlights the harm caused by the failings of the archdiocese of Westminster, and, in particular, the failings of Cdl. Vincent Nichols to engage with survivors in a compassionate and meaningful way," the victim, codenamed A711, complained.
In her witness statement, A711 revealed how RC-F500, who was her local parish priest and a member of the Servite order in his 30s or 40s, abused her in a swimming pool underwater "under the pretense of a game." According to the victim, "the sexual abuse became much more extreme and frequent" when she turned 18.
In October 2016, A711 reported the abuse to the Church and the Servite order. In December 2016, her case was transferred to the Westminster archdiocese due to the ill health of the original safeguarding officer.
A711 told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) she thought that because Cdl. Nichols was archbishop of Westminster, she would "be well looked after" and that things would "run smoothly," but "that could not have been further from the truth."
Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represents A711, told Church Militant that all his 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, but their disgraceful behavior ended up causing her serious harm."
"As a result, 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 added.
The veteran lawyer blamed "the staff in the archdiocese who behaved in a completely unprofessional way in this case," but he placed the brunt of the responsibility on Cdl. Nichols, "who presided over a dysfunctional safeguarding operation in his own backyard."
Scorer blasted Nichols for failing "to display even basic leadership by rooting out this unacceptable behavior, and himself behaving in a dismissive way towards our client."
A711 repeatedly names Nichols in her letter and is extremely critical of his role, even though she alleges no personal legal liability on the cardinal's part. The cardinal's failure to resign — despite being disgraced at last year's IICSA hearings — has been a major factor in her decision to launch legal proceedings, she stated.
"As long as he is in office, the Catholic Church in England and Wales will struggle to convince people that it can improve its appalling safeguarding record," she maintained.
A711 told IICSA she was made to feel she was "at best, being a nuisance and, at worst, being manipulative."
The IICSA hearing exhibited evidence revealing Nichols' unwillingness to engage with A711.
On one occasion, the cardinal was copied into an email about contacting the victim. An official asked, "Am I right in thinking you will not be sending a further reply?" Nichols replied: "You are right in your assumption."
When questioned, Nichols said that, at the time, his priority was to meet victims who wished to talk about the impact of abuse, whereas A711 wanted to highlight the shortcomings of the safeguarding staff.
A711 stated this was "an artificial distinction to make — that he feels he can categorize me as ... having less of a story. All of this is the continuation of an awful, awful experience."
The victim said she fought an "an exhausting battle" with the Westminster archdiocese as they were "re-traumatizing me, and, in that sense, re-abusing." She went on to say that, over two and half years, she "came face to face with the Church at its most defensive and protective of its own."
The IICSA investigation slammed Cdl. Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, from whom "there was no acknowledgment of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change."
In November, a day before the release of the IICSA report, Nichols wrote to clergy on the occasion of his 75th birthday, pointing out that he had offered his resignation to the Holy Father "some time ago." Bishops and cardinals resign once they are 75 years old.
Nichols elaborated: "The Holy Father formally accepts my resignation and, at the same time, has decided that I am to remain in office until, at his decision, other provision is made."
"So it is in this same peaceful spirit that I will now continue as your bishop," Nichols added.
"Cardinal Nichols needs to go right away — in any other walk of life he would be gone immediately," Scorer remarked. "We hope that the action by RC-A711 will prompt some soul searching by the Church and ensure better handling of cases in the future."