The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales presided over a child protection system that allowed a paedophile priest to continue abusing schoolboys despite repeated complaints from victims, an investigation by The Times has discovered.
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, chaired the church’s child safety watchdog in 2001-08 while Father David Pearce was repeatedly investigated by church officials and police. Despite a High Court ruling in 2006 awarding damages to one of his victims, Pearce remained a priest at Ealing Abbey, West London, where he groomed and assaulted one final victim before his arrest in 2008.
Pearce, 68, a Benedictine monk and former headteacher at the prestigious St Benedict’s School, was jailed for eight years in October after admitting a catalogue of sex offences against teenage pupils during 35 years at the abbey.
Archbishop Nichols last night denied any knowledge of the Pearce case while he was chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca).
Church officials said that Archbishop Nichols was not told the full details of Pearce’s child abuse offences until he replaced Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor at Westminster last year.
However, his predecessor knew of the allegations, a spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor confirmed. The Cardinal has recently been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to sit on the Vatican body that appoints bishops.
The Pope was further embroiled in the worldwide clerical abuse scandal yesterday by the discovery of a letter which purports to show that he resisted the defrocking of an American priest because of the effect it might have “on the good of the universal church”.