04 February 2019, The Tablet

Pope's UK envoy fails to give evidence to abuse inquiry

IICSA told: 'It is absolutely outrageous that the papal nuncio seeks to hide behind diplomatic immunity.'

Pope's UK envoy fails to give evidence to abuse inquiry

Queen Elizabeth II meets His Excellency Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, Apostolic nuncio, during a private audience
Victoria Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

The Vatican’s most senior diplomatic representative in the UK has been accused of “hiding behind his diplomatic immunity” in his failure to provide vital evidence relating to the nuncio’s handling of allegations of child sexual abuse at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s school in west London despite repeated requests from the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA). 

In a letter sent on Monday (4 February) a solicitor from the firm Howe & Co has called on the Prime Minister to expel Archbishop Edward Adams, Papal Nuncio in the UK, from the country “for obstructing this nationally important investigation into child abuse in England and Wales”. 

In the letter, addressed to Prime Minister Theresa May and seen by the Tablet, lawyer David Enright reminds Mrs May of her statement of March 2015 that the national child sex abuse inquiry would “challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour and get to the truth.” 

He continues: “Our clients now look to you to honour that commitment, and to compel Archbishop Adams to offer up the evidence he holds that is vital to the investigation into child sexual abuse at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School. 

“Should Archbishop Adams fail to comply with the request of the Chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay, and instead use his diplomatic privileges to avoid providing evidence about child abuse in Ealing, then our clients ask that you exercise your power to expel him from the UK for obstructing this nationally important investigation into child abuse in England and Wales.”

Riel Karmy-Jones QC, counsel to IICSA, in her opening statement to the inquiry on Monday confirmed that a series of letters have been sent to Archbishop Adams. “As part of the investigation,” Karmy-Jones said, “the solicitor to the inquiry has written to to the apostolic nuncio to request that he provide a statement in connection with these investigations”. 

Ms Karmy-Jones said the inquiry had received confirmation from the nuncio that its request was “being carefully considered”.

“Despite a number of further requests for updates the inquiry has not yet received a statement or any substantive responses to its correspondence,” she said. 

Mr Enright, addressing the inquiry, said that the papal nuncio’s refusal to answer questions on pressing child abuse matters was “astonishing”. He continued that the catholic church’s “flagrant disregard” of the national’s inquiry request for evidence “cannot go unchallenged”. 

Addressing the inquiry’s chair, Professor Alexis Jay, he called for her to to issue a “Rule 9 statement” request to the Nuncio, backed by a section 21 notice, advising him that if he did not comply with her request for evidence, that she would subject him to criminal proceedings. The penalty for which is up to 51 weeks imprisonment. 

The papal nuncio’s office had been involved in handling complaints about abuse at St Benedict’s and other Catholic schools and had also conducted their own investigations into the school, Mr Enright told the inquiry. 

Richard Scorer, abuse lawyer at the law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “It is absolutely outrageous that the papal nuncio seeks to hide behind diplomatic immunity to avoid giving information to the inquiry. Yet again it shows the Vatican stalling and covering up scandal and gives the lie to their claims of change.”

IICSA on Monday began a five-day hearing into Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School in the second part of its investigation into the English Benedictine Congregation. The Inquiry previously heard evidence relating to Ampleforth and Downside in December 2017. 

Since the early 2000’s, several clergy associated with Ealing Abbey have faced allegations of historical offences against boys at St Benedict’s School in Ealing. Among them are two former monks Andrew Soper, previously known as Laurence Soper, who was convicted in December 2017 of 19 charges of rape and other sexual abuses against 10 boys at the school, and David Pearce, who was jailed in 2009 after he admitted 11 charges of indecent assault dating back to 1972.

Ruth Henke QC, on behalf of Ealing Abbey Monastic Community told the inquiry: “I offer a sincere, unreserved and profound apology to each and every survivor. For all the harm caused to survivors, we are truly, truly sorry and will never cease saying sorry.”

In a separate statement issued on Monday, Christopher Jamison, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), said: “I am truly sorry for what has happened and apologise unequivocally to all those who suffered and were abused by anyone connected with our abbeys and schools.

“IICSA’s report published in 2018 highlighted how flawed many of our past responses have been. We continue to work conscientiously to ensure our communities are safe environments for young people both now and in the future. We know how important this work is to survivors as well.

“I am not in a position to comment further ahead of my appearance at the IICSA hearing on the EBC but afterwards I will be able to provide an update on the continuous improvement to safeguarding being undertaken by the EBC.

"Whilst the Inquiry hearings will continue to hear from victims and survivors, there may be others whose voices have not been heard and to whom we should listen. If they have not yet contacted the authorities I would urge them to do so.”

Abbot Jamison is due to give evidence to the inquiry on behalf of the EBC on 8 February. 

Contacted by The Tablet, the Nunciature refused to comment.

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