A woman abused by a priest as a teenager has become the first person to receive a pay-out over treatment she received from the Church following her complaint.Abuse survivor receives payout after she was ‘re-traumatised’ by slurs in complaints process – Catholic Herald
A woman abused by a priest as a teenager has become the first person to receive a pay-out over treatment she received from the Church following her complaint.
She took action against the Archdiocese of Westminster earlier this year after she learned that she had been referred to as “needy” and “manipulative” in emails between church officials handling her case.
The archdiocese has now agreed a financial settlement with the woman, making her the first in the UK to receive damages over the conduct of the Catholic Church following an allegation of abuse.
The woman in her 50s, who has retained her legal anonymity and cannot be named, complained that when she was 15 she had been sexually abused and then raped by a priest who is no longer in active ministry.
She said: “When I came forward in October 2016 to report my historical abuse I was looking for closure and healing. Instead I was confronted by a Church which treated me with indifference and disdain.
“I hope that my determination to shine a light on the way the Church responds to victims and survivors will change things for others and give a clear message that it is both morally and legally unacceptable to treat survivors in this way.
“Westminster safeguarding team and Cardinal (Vincent) Nichols himself failed to respond to me with the compassion and care you would expect to find in an institution claiming to live by Gospel values.
“Instead they perpetuated a victim-blaming culture with no regard for the devastating impact that would have on me.”
The woman received a settlement for the abuse in 2018 but later decided to file a new legal claim arguing that she had been “re-traumatised” by the Church.
According to the Sunday Times, the woman directly asked Cardinal Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, for help but said her initial requests for meetings were ignored.
She then submitted a formal request to see correspondence about her and discovered that one Church official had written: “This woman is deeply manipulative.”
Another said: “The victim is needy.” She also learned that a safeguarding officer had described her as “bullying”.
In one email Cardinal Nichols confirmed that he would not be sending any more replies to the woman.
Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who represented the woman, said: “This is the first case to my knowledge in which the Catholic Church has paid damages, not for clerical sex abuse itself but for the subsequent mistreatment of a survivor by a church safeguarding team.
“As a settlement rather than a court ordered payment it doesn’t create a formal legal precedent but it does reinforce that if survivors are poorly treated they may look to bring further such claims in the future.
“Above all this case emphasises that the Catholic Church’s response to survivors has often been extremely poor, and now needs a fundamental reset.”
He added: “Survivors will not tolerate being disparaged and denigrated, but look to the church to meet its responsibilities to clerical abuse survivors in a fair and empathetic manner.”
Last November, the Catholic Church in England and Wales was severely criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.
It its final report, IICSA revealed that between 1970 and 2015 the Church received more than 900 complaints involving more than 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse against more than 900 individuals in the Church, including priests, monks and volunteers.
In the same period, the report said, there were 177 prosecutions resulting in 133 convictions, with millions of pounds paid in compensation.
Cardinal Nichols was singled out for criticism by the inquiry, which also scrutinised the treatment of the woman, under the cipher A71I, by his archdiocese.
At about the same time, the Church fully accepted all of the recommendations of the Elliott Review into its safeguarding structures and procedures and implemented them within the first six months of this year.
Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) was set up to replace two safeguarding bodies with a single entity possessing considerably increased powers.
In May, Nazir Afzal, the former Chief Prosecutor for the North West and a man with a reputation for protecting woman and children from abuse, was appointed as first chairman of the CSSA.
Mr Afzal, pictured above, said: “I’m concerned that anyone who has disclosed abuse within the Catholic Church should be re-traumatised by the way those disclosures have been dealt with.
“In the four months that I have led the new independent safeguarding standards agency, I have made it our priority to meet with victims and I have met with A71I specifically to hear her experiences so that they will inform our development of strategy, our policies and our approach.”
He said: “Nobody should have to suffer abuse and, if they have, then it’s the Church’s duty to listen, act and respond with empathy, sensitivity and expedition.”
(Photo courtesy of Nazir Afzal)
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