Vincent Nichols 'very sorry' and 'distressed' by child abuse in Catholic Church

Cardinal Vincent Nichols with a copy of the IICSA report that accuses him of failing to lead by example.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has apologised for child sexual abuse at the hands of paedophile priests after he was singled out for criticism in a damning report on Tuesday. 

The report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said that the Church's moral purpose had been "betrayed over decades" because it had sought to put perpetrators and its own reputation before the welfare of children. 

The 147-page report said the Church had swept abuse allegations "under the carpet" and that Cardinal Vincent Nichols had in some instances failed to show compassion for victims. 

"The evidence in this investigation has revealed a sorry history of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales," the report said.

"There have been too many examples of abusive priests and monks preying on children for prolonged periods of time.

"Responses to disclosures about sexual abuse have been characterised by a failure to support victims and survivors in stark contrast to the positive action taken to protect alleged perpetrators and the reputation of the Church."

Of Cardinal Nichols, it says he failed to lead by example and was sometimes more concerned about protecting the Church. 

"As the figurehead and the most senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Catholics look to Cardinal Nichols to lead by example," the report said.

"During the final public hearing in November 2018, he apologised for the Church's failings, noting that this was a source of 'great sorrow and shame for me and, indeed I know, for the Catholic Church'.

"But there was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change. Nor did he demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined."

It added: "His acknowledgement that 'there is plenty for us to achieve' applies as much to him as it does to everyone else in the Church.

"He did not always exercise the leadership expected of a senior member of the Church, at times preferring to protect the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Rome."

Commenting on the report, Cardinal Nichols said the publication of the report had been "difficult" and "painful" for the Church but more so for the victims. 

"Because those wounds are almost permanent, they run so deep, and they will be re-awakened [by the report]," he said. 

He encouraged victims to come forward, saying that they "will be listened to" and "helped".

"I want to say again how very sorry and distressed I am that this damage was done to you and done to you in our name and I promise you that we will keep working."