There are important hearings taking place at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. This week the inquiry has focused, as a case study, on the Archdiocese of Birmingham in the Roman Catholic Church. Although I have been unable to follow it as closely as I would like, the transcripts made grim reading.
The inquiry heard how one priest, a Fr Robinson, abused a boy during car trips, as well as at his home when Fr Robinson was allowed to stay overnight with him in a double bed. He also abused him at his primary school, church and at his grandparents’ house. This took place during the 1970s. The victim, referred to as ‘A31’, gave his own account of the effect of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Fr Robinson. ‘This has repeatedly destroyed my life, and continues to do so. There are people that are so destroyed and broken by this.’
There was also an account of abuse by the son of J R R Tolkien, Fr Tolkien. Witness ‘A343’ said: ‘In 1968 Fr Tolkien was reported to the Archbishop for abusing two boys, and they sent him for therapy, then two years later he abused me.’ He continued: ‘The impact lasts for a lifetime, to me it’s at the back of my mind all the time. I worked out the claim, they gave me £100 a year to get counselling, that’s not enough. The victims must be third-class citizens. To deny the truth that they already knew, to cover up children being abused by paedophiles, is beyond words.’
The Inquiry received a written statement from a witness referred to as ‘A491’, who experienced physical and sexual abuse while a resident at St Joseph’s RC School at Croome Court in Worcestershire.
He describes nuns as ‘cruel’, regularly shutting him in a room for weeks at a time and carrying out beatings. On one occasion, he says, he was hit so hard with a strap that he soiled himself – at which point the nuns put him in a cold bath to wash off the faeces and blood.
He also detailed sexual abuse by a priest referred to as ‘F213’. ‘I felt I couldn’t tell anyone, because who would believe a priest could do such an evil thing?’ After contacting the Archdiocese, the victim said he was ‘disappointed’ by the response of Archbishop Bernard Longley, who (in a letter) said he was ‘deeply moved and very sad’ to hear of A491’s experiences, and promised to keep his family in his ‘thoughts and prayers’.
Another witness said: ‘I would like the inquiry to understand just how much of an impact the physical and emotional abuse by the nuns had on me as a Catholic child. The nuns’ abuse was extremely damaging and terrifying because I was abused by people who I believed to be God’s representatives.’
What can I add to such a litany of horror? We should never forget the lifelong trauma this abuse has on the victims. This abuse was, and remains, one the greatest evils the institutional Catholic Church committed and then covered up.
I will just say this. We previously shared the full explanation of the third commandment – Do not misuse God’s name.
Dennis Prager is of the view that breaching this commandment is the worst sin: committing evil in the name of God. He believes that those who kill in God’s name – such as Islamist terrorists – are breaching this commandment and will not be forgiven.
This is what these abusive priests and nuns were doing when they abused children, often sadistically. They were committing evil in the name of God. We can see this from the witness who tried to explain how damaging and terrifying this abuse was: he was abused by people whom he believed to be ‘God’s representatives’.
These priests and nuns used their purported connection to God to abuse children. Can you think of anything more wicked? They committed evil in the name of God, and according to Dennis Prager, a Jew who knows his Hebrew, they will not be forgiven.
As a Catholic, I don’t think there is anything more evil than what happened here. These were predators and abusers preying on the most vulnerable children who were entrusted to their care, or the children of faithful Catholic parents who placed their faith in the Church and the priests and nuns of that Church.
Finally, it is notable that yet again it is the secular authorities that are exposing abuse within the institutional Catholic Church – something all faithful Catholics should appreciate. However, questions must be asked about what exactly the Church is doing about abuse cases, even historical, and most of all what they are doing for the victims who have to live with this abuse every single day? Nothing from this hearing tells me they have been treated with the compassion and decency they deserve.