Archbishop defends Pope over abuse ‘inaction’ claims

The leader of Catholics in England and Wales has staunchly defended the Pope over his handling of the case of a US priest suspected of abusing children.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not an “idle observer” when dealing with the 1990s case.

Writing in the Times, the Archbishop said the Pope had introduced changes into Church law to protect children.

He said the issue was “deeply shocking and totally unacceptable”.

The Church in England and Wales was “committed to safeguarding” vulnerable people, he said.

‘Some misunderstanding’

The Vatican has also defended the Pope over the reports that the Vatican office he led at the time had refused archbishops in Milwaukee permission to take Fr Lawrence Murphy to a Church court.

Fr Murphy was a popular priest who is suspected of abusing some 200 boys at St John’s School for the Deaf in St Francis, Wisconsin, between 1950 and 1974.

The Catholic Church has also been plagued in recent months by abuse cover-up claims in Europe, and last week the Pope issued an unprecedented letter to Ireland addressing the 16 years of clerical cover-up scandals.

The Archbishop of Westminster said “serious mistakes” had been made within the Catholic Church and the outrage and anger was understandable.

But he said there had been “some misunderstanding” about the Church’s legal structure for dealing with allegations.

He said the role of Church leaders was to “offer guidance to ensure that proper procedures are followed… to protect the good name of witnesses, victims and the accused until the trial is completed.

“It is no different from any other responsible legal procedure.”

When in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope oversaw changes in Church law including the inclusion of internet offences and fast-track dismissal for offenders, he said.

“He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words,” said Archbishop Nichols.

‘Total disclosure’

Archbishop Nichols said in the past 40 years, less than 0.4% of priests in England and Wales had faced allegations of abuse and fewer had been convicted.

But since 2001 all allegations – no matter how old – have been reported to the police or social services and case numbers and outcomes are now made public.

“As far as I know, no other organisation in this country does this,” the Archbishop said.

“It is not a cover-up; it is clear and total disclosure. The purpose of doing so is not to defend the Church.

“It is to make plain that in the Catholic Church in England and Wales there is no hiding place for those who seek to harm children.”