15 August 2019, The Tablet

The archbishop and the BBC

The archbishop and the BBC

Vincent Nichols as Archbishop of Birmingham in 2001
Photo: PA


The English Catholic Church continues to be unrepentant in its scathing criticism of the messengers who exposed sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Birmingham in a BBC documentary 15 years ago. Now one of the original journalists has made public their side of the story behind the scenes

It’s Spring 2003, and The Boston Globe has just won a Pulitzer Prize for a ­devastating series of reports exposing the systemic cover-up of clerical sex abuse by the Archdiocese of Boston. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in London, a group of journalists working for a BBC documentary series, Kenyon Confronts, are investigating allegations of abuse by priests that indicate a similar ­pattern of cover-ups much closer to home in the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

When the half-hour documentary Secrets and Confessions was broadcast in October 2003, it made headlines. This was not because it located Fr James Robinson, a Birmingham priest who had fled to the United States to escape allegations of abusing young boys, and was later extradited and jailed for 21 years on 21 counts of sexual offences. It was because the Church accused its makers of harassing and abusing elderly and vulnerable priests and nuns during their investigation.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading

Register for free to read this article in full

Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £21.50 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login

User Comments (3)

Comment by: Paul
Posted: 29/08/2019 21:18:15
Why hasn't the Cardinal resigned?
Comment by: Mick
Posted: 22/08/2019 08:13:40
Unfortunately very few of us are likely to be surprised by the Church's reaction. From a crisis communications point of view - an area in which I work - the Birmingham episode could easily become yet another example of 'How not to handle a crisis'...

I hope the Church has learnt its lessons but past experience doesn't fill me with optimism.
Comment by: Mlab
Posted: 16/08/2019 13:28:39
I would thank the BBC and its investigative journalists for having the courage to persevere in the light of the information they retrieved. I am saddened by the reaction of the Church, but not surprised. Many wonder why people are leaving the Church in large numbers, but if they were just to listen to the reasons they give, they would learn that clerical abuse is one main reason why many people have switched off from the Church, not from following Jesus but from following dishonest leadership. People who make mistakes ought to have the courage to admit them and ask for forgiveness and repair the damage caused. Repeating untruths, even if they may have been genuinely believed once upon a time, but are clearly no longer valid, is unhelpful and leads to mistrust.
This is not the behaviour that Jesus would recommend... There is too much respect afforded to people who do not uphold the interests of the vulnerable compared to those of the mighty. The Church belongs, unfortunately, to the mighty and not the vulnerable. Let's hope that some of the changes that this Pope intends to bring forward will succeed. Let's not forget that the Church is not a divine institution for God is a human creation, but a human one with all its frailty. But I expect more honesty and protection of the vulnerable from its leadership.