An inquiry found the church was complicit in helping to cover up allegations of abuse and had “repeatedly failed” to alert police to allegations.
More than 130 allegations of child sex abuse have been made against 78 individuals associated with the archdiocese, which encompasses the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Shropshire, since the mid-1930s, but the panel said the true scale of offending is likely to be far higher.
Senior figures were found to have brushed concerns about priests under the carpet and the inquiry panel said the church could have acted to prevent children from being abused but was more concerned with its reputation.
Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the current leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, was archbishop of Birmingham between 2000 and 2009 and was said by the inquiry to have been more concerned about the reputation of the church than the welfare of children.
The report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said “little or no steps” were taken to protect children from the risk of abuse by the late Father John Tolkien, son of novelist J.R.R Tolkien.
The archdiocese settled claims arising from allegations against the priest, who died in 2003 and was never convicted in court.
The inquiry heard Cardinal Nichols had been aware of a 1968 note which included a reference to Fr Tolkien having apparently admitted ordering a group of Scouts to strip naked.
The report found that the church “was aware of the risk Father Tolkien posed to children and yet the archdiocese took little or no steps to protect children from those risks”.
In another instance the cardinal issued a press release complaining about anti-Catholic bias after a BBC documentary in which serial child abuser James Robinson was confronted by reporters after fleeing to the US.
Complaints about Robinson, who was found guilty in 2010 of 21 child sex abuse offences against four boys, were made to the church in the 1970s and 1980s but the inquiry said he had simply been moved to a different parish and that the archdiocese did not appear to have reported allegations to police.
The hurt and damage caused by Robinson had been compounded, the panel said, by Cardinal Nichols’ press release which “focused too much on his grievance with the programme makers and too little on the public interest in exposing the abuse committed by the clergy and the harm done to the victims of such abuse”.
The report, which looked at the responses of the church to four priests in total, also concluded that the Archdiocese of Birmingham is still falling short in its child safeguarding arrangements, despite recommendations from major reports in recent years.
The archdiocese covers a large area of England including Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and much of Oxfordshire. The metropolitan province includes the suffragan dioceses of Clifton and Shrewsbury.
The panel said: “The Archdiocese of Birmingham must professionalise both the way the safeguarding team operates and the way the team is managed and overseen.”
A statement from the archdiocese said it will study the findings and use them to “inform our ongoing commitment to do more and do better”. It said: “We accept that we have failed victims and survivors of abuse and again apologise for the grievous failings we have made in the past.
“Apologies are just words though, if not backed up by action.
“We will the take the time needed to review the IICSA report thoroughly in order to make a considered and detailed response, which will inform our ongoing commitment to do more and do better.”
The archdiocese has already “fundamentally changed its practices and processes to ensure an open and compassionate approach to victims and survivors”, it said.
The statement added: “It now has more safeguarding personnel, better management and recording systems, stronger DBS/checking procedures and clear policies and practices on safeguarding referrals and agreements, to safeguard those who come in contact with the church.”
Apology is ‘some justice’ says victim
A former altar boy abused by a priest has described a personal apology from a leader in the Catholic church as “some sort of justice”.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, now Archbishop of Westminster and head of the church in England and Wales, met the victim last month to say sorry for the way he had been treated.
The man, now aged in his 50s, told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in hearings last year that he was abused by Father John Tolkien, son of novelist J.R.R Tolkien in the 1970s.
It later emerged that the church had been aware of other allegations against the priest, two years before the abuse against the altar boy.
The inquiry’s report, published yesterday, found that Cardinal Nichols, who was archbishop of Birmingham between 2000 and 2009, had been aware of a 1968 note which included a reference to Fr Tolkien having apparently admitted ordering a group of Scouts to strip naked, but the church “took little or no steps to protect children” from the risk of abuse.
The victim said he wrote to Cardinal Nichols to request a meeting with Fr Tolkien in 2002 but was refused.
Fr Tolkien died the next year.
He said: “I had a very bad distaste for Vincent Nichols for many years and I held him responsible for stopping me seeing Tolkien so I couldn’t find out why he did it.”
In a letter following their meeting last month, Cardinal Nichols told the man: “The combination of childhood abuse and the manipulative distortions of the Catholic faith by those who abused are a terrible source of hurt and lasting distress.
“In particular I want to apologise to you that the response you received from my representatives when you approached Birmingham Archdiocese was inadequate.”