Clergy who admit child abuse 'courageous', says Catholic archbishop



* Riazat Butt
* guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 May 2009 19.45 BST

The new leader of Catholics in England and Wales has provoked outrage after describing members of the clergy who admitted abusing children in their care as courageous for facing up to their past.

The comments by the Most Rev Vincent Nichols follow the release of a report that revealed Catholic priests and nuns terrorised thousands of boys and girls in the Irish Republic, while government inspectors failed to stop the continuing beatings, rapes and humiliation.

In an interview broadcast to be broadcast tonight on ITV's News at Ten, Nichols said: "It's very distressing and very disturbing and my heart goes out today first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public.

"Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they'd rather not look at.

"That takes courage, and also we shouldn't forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did."

Nichols, who will today be installed as the archbishop of Westminster, replacing Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, was responding to the 2,600-page report from Ireland's commission to inquire into child abuse.

Child protection groups were quick to condemn Nichols, who has been widely praised in the past for his communication skills and ease with the media.

Michele Elliot, chief executive of the charity Kidscape, said that while she was glad Nichols acknowledged the scandal of paedophilia in the priesthood, she was unhappy that he had tempered the apology.

"It is ludicrous. It should be a straightforward mea culpa. It is a moral stance and he should say that it is all about the children and the rest of them be damned. There are no excuses for religious orders.

"If I were a victim of child abuse I would feel that his real concern is for priests and nuns."

The controversy threatens to overshadow tomorrow's installation, which will be attended by more than 2,200 guests including Lord Guthrie (representing Prince Charles), Paul Murphy (representing the prime minister), the Duke of Norfolk, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, and hundreds of clergy.

A spokesman for the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse organisation also attacked Nichols.

Former industrial schools resident Patrick Walsh said: "Rubbish is too kind of word for what the archbishop has said. I believe I have heard this kind of twaddle uttered by politicians in Ireland like Bertie Ahern, the former prime minister. It is the verbiage of unreason and it leaves me cold. What the archbishop really has to do is take a long hard look at the character and nature of the people he is talking about and ask himself if they are capable of being good."

The row is reminiscent of one that engulfed the early years of O'Connor's administration. It emerged that he had failed to act when a priest, Michael Hill, became known to him as a paedophile. Instead of informing the police, he moved him to the chaplaincy at ­Gatwick airport, where he believed the priest would no longer be a danger to children.

In 1997, however, Hill was convicted of sex attacks against nine children. After serving three years, he was then given another sentence of five years for assaults on three more boys.

At the time, O'Connor argued that there was little understanding about paedophilia and he survived calls for his resignation. He was cleared by an inquiry and set up the Nolan commission, which established a more rigorous child protection system.

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By: allyssa (1050.68)

Tags: child abuse, Catholic archbishop, paedophiles, Ireland,

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