Shortly after his retirement, Murphy-O'Connor was appointed a "visitor," or investigator, for an apostolic visitation to Ireland, charged in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI with investigating the sexual abuse crisis in that country. At the time of his appointment, the Vatican had reportedly not been informed of the allegation against the cardinal.
Before the apostolic visitation to Ireland got underway in 2011, a decision was made jointly by the bishops of Portsmouth and Northampton to contact Rome directly, in hopes that Westminster would be compelled to act. The bishops were reportedly concerned that the accuser might take her allegations to the media, something which could severely damage the credibility of the Ireland investigation.
CNA has learned that Charles Scicluna, then a Monsignor and Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was contacted directly and informed about the case, which had not previously been brought to Rome's attention, despite more than a year passing since the allegation was initially reported.
A file about the case was hand-delivered to Scicluna – at his request – in Rome. According to sources familiar with its contents, the file contained canonical vota (legal opinions) from both Bishop Doyle and Bishop Crispian Hollis, then the Bishop of Portsmouth.
Both bishops underscored the sensitivity of the matter, and noted that while the accusations themselves seemed "extraordinary," the accuser was herself an otherwise credible person. The bishops also asked the CDF to ensure that a proper investigation was carried out and that the national safeguarding policies were applied.
The CDF did open a file on the matter, and in 2011 Archbishop Nichols hired a retired police officer to examine the allegations and report back to the archdiocese.
While it is unknown how that report concluded, a source familiar with the investigation told CNA that the investigator did not meet with or speak to the alleged victim and characterized the process as "severely deficient."
By the end of 2012, the CDF had seen significant changes in personnel. Cardinal Levada was succeeded as prefect by Archbishop Gerhardt Müller, and Scicluna was replaced as Promoter of Justice by Msgr. Robert Oliver.
According to sources close to the CDF, Oliver noted that proper procedure had not been followed in the case. He contacted both the Archdiocese of Westminster and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, saying that the Vatican's file on the accusation had not been closed.
The case could not be formally "resolved" until proper canonical procedures had been observed, including a credible preliminary investigation that could determine whether the allegations could be dismissed, sources told CNA.
One British Church official who was contacted by the CDF's Promoter of Justice recalled that Msgr. Oliver was "surprised" the matter had not been dealt with properly, and wanted to see it resolved quickly.
While no further action was taken in Westminster, two separate sources in the UK told CNA that they had been left with the impression that Oliver went on to close the case. Both expressed surprise at recent reports, including Archbishop Vigano's latest statement, that the file was still open as late as 2013, when Pope Francis is alleged to have intervened by ordering Cardinal Müller to drop the CDF's enquiries into the matter.
On Oct. 3, Cardinal Müller said that ongoing attempts to close the case had been halted by Pope Francis, according to at least one report. It is unclear what stage the process had reached by that point, or if a preliminary investigation had been concluded.
The CDF is not authorized to proceed with any case against a bishop or cardinal without papal authorization. A source close to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor told CNA that it was possible Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor had himself asked the pope to intervene, likely at the time when the pope's approval for a CDF investigation was sought.
"[Cardinal] Cormac was, I'm sure, thoroughly fed up with the whole affair. As far as he was concerned the allegations were clearly false and the whole thing had dragged on in one form or another for years. He knew he was innocent, he was certainly friendly with the Holy Father and would probably have seen nothing wrong with asking him to draw a line under it," the source said.
A source familiar with Westminster's handling of the case noted that it was the failure to follow the established protocols which resulted in the current publicity surrounding the case.
"The great irony is, of course, that if Cardinal Cormac had just handed the whole thing off to another diocese like he was supposed to in 2008, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"The accusation was frankly incredible, the police found nothing to move forward with. If another diocese had been given the chance to do an investigation and meet with the woman this could all have been credibly resolved quite quickly," the source added.
"All I can say is if the case was still a going concern in 2013 and that is how it ended [with the pope's intervention] it's a vindication of how it was handled from the go – the law is for the little people."
Last month, the bishops of England and Wales released a statement ahead of their ad limina visit to Rome in which they expressed "shame and sorrow" in the face of recent sex abuse scandals to hit the Church.
The statement promised an independent review of national and diocesan safeguarding procedures, but noted that national policies had been in place since 2001 and highlighted that they specifically included "the steps to be taken if allegations of abusive behavior were to be made against a bishop."