Sex abuse inquiry examines England's Birmingham archdiocese

St Chads Cathedral in Birmingham England Credit Tony Hisgett via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA St. Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham, England. | Tony Hisgett via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

An independent government inquiry is investigating how the Archdiocese of Birmingham handled allegations of child sexual abuse made against four priests.

Father John Tolkien, who died in 2003, allegedly abused a boy during Saturday morning "reading lessons" at the priest's home in 1970, and afterwards told the boy to keep the abuse a secret. Fr. Tolkien is the son of author and philologist J.R.R. Tolkien.

In addition, investigators reported Nov. 12 that they had found evidence that Fr. Tolkien had privately admitted to forcing a group of boy scouts to strip naked while on a camp-out in the 1950s, and may even have been sent for treatment. Allegations were eventually brought to the police in 1994 but no charges were filed.

An anonymous complainant who spoke during a hearing accused Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who was Archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009, of seeking to cover up abuse perpetrated in the 1970s.

"I think they [the church] just see them [victim] as a scourge, third class citizens who dare to come forward and challenge them," the victim of Fr. Tolkien's alleged sexual abuse told the BBC.

While Archbishop of Birmingham, Nichols reportedly paid out several settlements to Tolkien's alleged victims.

Nichols apologized to victims of sexual abuse in an August letter. He also issued a joint apology with the current Birmingham archbishop, Bernard Longley, following the witness statements at this week's hearing.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is investigating a number of prominent institutions in the UK including the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and several councils that handle foster care agencies and children's homes.

The inquiry released a report in August detailing "appalling sexual abuse," dating back decades, at two of the most prominent Catholic schools in the country, Ampleforth and Downside.

The hearings concerning the Archdiocese of Birmingham will continue until Nov. 16.

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