Cardinal declined to meet abuse victim before Vatican summit | World news


A woman who was sexually abused as a teenager by a Catholic priest has expressed anger and disappointment that the church’s leader in England and Wales declined to meet her before attending the Vatican’s abuse summit last month.

The woman, who does not want to be named, wrote to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, several times in the run-up to the Rome summit asking him to hear about shortcomings in the way the church handled her disclosure. The cardinal’s private office replied to say his diary was too full to arrange a meeting.

“I feel incredibly frustrated, but in some ways not surprised,” she told the Observer. “I’ve not been listened to throughout the whole process. I’ve been made to feel like I’m the enemy. I’m just about clinging on as a member of the church, but I’m not sure for how much longer, to be honest.”

Pope Francis, who convened the high-profile sexual abuse summit at the Vatican, asked all cardinals, bishops and other senior church figures attending to meet abuse survivors in their own countries before travelling to Rome in order to get a better understanding of the issues.

A spokesperson for Nichols said the cardinal met six survivors in the UK before the summit, and 15 survivors in Rome. Another eight survivors gave testimony to the meeting. “Listening to survivors and victims of abuse is a priority for informing the church’s approach to safeguarding,” the spokesperson said.

The woman, now in her 50s, made a formal complaint to the Catholic church over the way her case had been handled, saying that officials behaved in a “defensive and legalistic way” and were insensitive, patronising and intimidating.

“I felt I was in the wrong, and every step in the process to have information shared with me was an exhausting battle,” she wrote in a statement for her lawyer. The process made her question “who the church was safeguarding: itself, or victims and survivors”.

An independent report into the church’s handling of her case, completed in November 2017 and seen by the Observer, upheld her complaints.

The alleged abuse began in the late 1970s when the woman was 15 and continued for about 10 years, causing mental health problems, for which she needed psychotherapy. In 2016, she reported the abuse to the church, and to the police the following year. The police investigated but concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case.

In April 2017, the priest involved, Father Peter Conniffe, a member of the Servite Order based in Salford, wrote to the woman to ask forgiveness “for all and any sexual activity towards you which I may have thought was consensual, but which has come to be deemed non-consensual and abusive”. He added: “Please accept my sincere apologies and deep regret for any harm I have caused you. I ask your forgiveness and hope this apology will help to free you from the distress you have suffered because of my actions.”

Last year, the Servite Order paid compensation to the woman. The church’s safeguarding body recommended the priest’s ministry was restricted so he did not have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults. He denied sexual assault.

No one from the Servite Order was available to comment.

The woman said the process of dealing with the church over her case had caused almost as much stress and trauma as the abuse.

She had followed the recent Vatican summit closely. “There is still a real reluctance in the church to take ownership of abuse. There was speech after speech saying ‘we must put survivors at the heart of this’, but I haven’t seen it happen.”

After the summit, Nichols told the Catholic weekly The Tablet that the church needed to give “particular priority to the voices of survivors and victims” and that “circles of silence within the church must be dealt with”.

The woman’s lawyer, Richard Scorer of Slater and Gordon, said that when Nichols appeared before the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in December, “he gave the impression he was keen to meet victims and understand their experiences. So it’s extremely surprising and disappointing that he is reluctant to meet my client.”

He added: “The public proclamations by Pope Francis at the summit are completely at odds with the Vatican’s papal nuncio [representative] in the UK refusing to provide evidence to the inquiry. There continues to be a vast gulf between what the pope says about these issues and what really happens.”



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