What is the truth about the case of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor?

The claims are shocking. A cardinal is accused of child abuse; his diocese is accused of mishandling the accusation; Pope Francis himself is accused of cutting short the inquiry. These allegations, reported by the website LifeSiteNews last week and picked up by the Times, gave English Catholics a sinking feeling. The recent wave of scandal, which has overwhelmed the credibility of the US Church, seemed to have crossed the Atlantic – for the cardinal in question was the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the diocese was Westminster, of which he was archbishop from 2000 to 2009.

But a closer look suggests that, in this instance, the claims may not stand up. The source of the allegations is an abuse survivor who is said to have received compensation from the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. She was assaulted by Fr Michael Hill in the 1960s – and she claims that other priests were involved, among them the future Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor.

According to LifeSiteNews, the woman “has been in contact with Church authorities for about 15 years now, without ever having received a thorough investigation of her claims”. The story alleged that in 2009 or 2010, Cardinal Nichols (Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s successor) received a complaint from the woman, but he “refused to investigate”.

In 2011, the report claimed, the dioceses of Portsmouth and Northampton had passed the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Only in 2013, LifeSiteNews alleged, did an auxiliary bishop in Westminster agree to meet the woman, “but still did not agree to start an investigation”. This, the story said, was according to “a source from England with inside knowledge of the case”.

A further allegation came from the Italian journalist Marco Tosatti. He said that a Vatican official – “an extremely good source, who was then in the government of the Curia” – had told him that Pope Francis quashed the CDF’s inquiry into Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. The Pope summoned the CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, according to Tosatti’s source, and asked him to call off the investigation.

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