OPENING STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF
RCA31, RCA32 AND RCA33
IICSA ARCHDIOCESE OF BIRMINGHAM INQUIRY
My remarks here are made against the background of what we already know about the Catholic Institutions examined as part of this Inquiry, how the church is organised into Dioceses, how orders come from Rome, the guidance given by Lord Nolan and Baroness Cumberledge, the evidence given in the Ampleforth and Downside Inquiry and indeed what that revealed about the reluctance of senior Catholics to share information with the police and their lack of engagement with outside agencies in relation to allegations of child abuse.
This particular Inquiry has only five days of evidence but we do know that there are a long list of identified abusers in the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Numerous failures by the Archdiocese and West Midlands Police will be identified in the days to come. I know that my colleague, Richard Scorer, has dealt with the cases of Samuel Penny and Father Tolkien. I will deal here with the case of Father Robinson.
The way in which the Archdiocese of Birmingham dealt with Father Robinson paints a very disturbing image not only of denial and obfuscation by the Church but the clearest evidence of the Church protecting its good name and the perpetrator by sending him swiftly to another country. The Catholic Church regards itself as above the law. It has laughed at the rest of us mere mortals for decades. It has covered up, used lawyers and its recruits in state organisations to protect itself from disgrace. It has been facing disgrace now for more than two decades with the revelations of abuse and cover up coming thick and fast. This week will prove to be another week of utter disgrace for this deceitful organisation.
A letter from the Archdiocese in 1985 states in terms that Robinson was being sent across to California due to the allegations made by RC-A31(CHC000246_044). A draft statement of a priest to whom RC-A31 first reported in May 1985 records how the Vicar General Daniel Leonard arranged for Robinson to be moved from the country (CHC000246_116). You will recall we heard in the Downside Inquiry of the movement of Anselm Hurt to Ireland when an accusation of child abuse surfaced.
The Inquiry will have the opportunity to view evidence that the Archdiocese paid for Father Robinson’s upkeep in Los Angeles to the tune of £800 per month, the money initially coming from parish funds but then being reimbursed to the parish from the Diocese throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This was further concealed by it being channelled via his cousin through a Scottish bank account to which Robinson had access.
It has to be said that there is scant evidence in the papers of the Archdiocese disciplining him in accordance with its own rules from Rome until 2018. Why was this ?
You may hear evidence that Father Robinson denies that the allegation was reason for him moving to Los Angeles and that it was actually his ill health that caused this move. This was a patent lie according to contemporaneous documents. You will no doubt hear obfuscation from Vincent Nichols and Bernard Longley. Their very careful use of language in press releases over the years has been designed to avoid admitting the truth of the matter which is that the Archdiocese has known about and protected its abusing priests. I ask you to pay attention to what these two men are not saying in their evidence. They will continue to distance themselves, the Archdiocese and their church from wrongdoing. You must see through this.
We have become used to uncovering this type of institutional cover-up in the Catholic Church and indeed the Church of England. It is of deep concern that we do not or may never know the true extent of concealment activity carried out in such an organised way by both Churches.
Perhaps the most grievous affront to children’s’ rights emerging from this case is the complicity of West Midlands Police which amounted to state protection of Father Robinson. On receiving RCA31’s complaint in 1985 he was not taken seriously. There was no thorough investigation of his serious allegations. He was instead accused of blackmail. West Midlands Police refused to accept a covert recording he made of Robinson admitting abusing him from the age of ten. The police suggested that it may not be genuine. He was subjected to an unnecessary intimate examination with instruments. West Midlands Police carried out only a cursory investigation. It is unclear as to whether West Midlands Police even reached the stage of interrogating Diocese officials. No crime was recorded on the police system enabling Robinson to come back to the UK in 1997 before returning to Los Angeles.
What seems to have happened in fact is that police officers colluded with the Archdiocese officials by passing to them a statement made by RCA31, thus tipping off the Diocese and Robinson thus enabling him to live out his days in the sunshine in California (or so they thought).
I could catalogue the letters passing between RCA31 and RCA32 and the Archdiocese but I would need a few days to do so. Suffice it to say that these two men urged the Archdiocese to bring Robinson to justice throughout the 1990s and 2000s with no success, the Diocese throughout being defended vigorously by its lawyers whilst retaining the knowledge of Robinson’s admission and supporting him to the tune of £800 per month via a concealed route.
The position worsens when police conduct in the 1990s and 2000s was chalenged. Both RCA31 and RCA32 each attempted to have the case investigated properly throughout this period but were unsuccessful.
RCA32 attempted repeatedly to persuade West Midlands Police to investigate between 1998 and 2014. An investigation in 2007 by West Midlands Police revealed continued unwillingness to properly investigate the case and the complicity of the police in 1985.
In relation to RCA31 there was a failure by WMP to respond adequately in 1995 when he approached them again asking for a proper investigation. In total he provided West Midlands Police with detailed evidence which deserved to be investigated in 1985, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2009-10.
Why did it take West Midlands police 6 years from the BBC Kenyon Confronts documentary to investigate the case properly ? Wht did Vincent Nichols complain about the documentary to the BBC when he knew it had revealed the truth ?
It was only in 2009 that the position changed when Crown Prosecution Service authorised an application for an extradition warrant from California and Robinson was brought to trial. Many courageous survivors came forward to give evidence and Robinson was convicted in 2010 of offending against multiple individuals, some of whose abuse could have been prevented had the Archdiocese and the police responded well. We will never know how many children Robinson abused when living in California.
RCA31 and RCA32 have tried repeatedly to involve the police complaints system and their attempts to have the police complaints system operate in this case have exposed some truths about flaws in the system which enable the police service to protect itself from criticism and suggest that the rigour which should be applied to these investigations is lacking within the current IOPC. The most recent IOPC investigation, Operation Fennel, has been criticised by RCA31 as having been launched only as a result of the interest shown by IICSA in the investigation and of lacking serious intent.
The plight of another CP in particular, RCA33, deserves to be mentioned. He was abused by Robinson in the early 1960s whilst Robinson was still studying for the priesthood at Oscott College. RCA343 mentions that he went through theological college and was concerned at the attitude of other Ordinands and their motives for joining the priesthood. Oscott college was of course the college at which Pope Ratzinger spoke in 2010. It would be interesting to know what Rome knew about the college and its teaching when it seems to have turned out a significant number of clerics against whom allegations have been made.
RCA33 like many has devoted a good part of his life to this case. He has helped the police after 2010, gave evidence at the trial of Robinson but has not received any offer of compensation. He like many he is bitter and is hopeful that the IICSA will expose the facts of the case.
I am grateful to the Inquiry staff for their diligent work in obtaining the various documents and statements.
Finally, we should all acknowledge the bravery of the victims of abuse who have come forward in this and other investigations and the journalists such as Mr Kenyon who tracked down Robinson in 2002.