One of Scotland’s most senior Catholic figures once accused lawyers of dangling a “pot of gold” before alleged victims of physical and sexual abuse, an inquiry heard.
Mario Conti, the former Bishop and Archbishop of Glasgow, was called to give evidence before the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry yesterday.
Archbishop Conti, 84, now retired, was questioned about a statement he made about 20 years ago which suggested that lawyers were using the prospect of compensation money to encourage people to come forward with claims of mistreatment in Catholic-run residential homes.
He told the hearing he would not use such a phrase now, adding that he had been horrified by allegations that nuns had beaten children and subjected them to sexual assaults at properties overseen by the Sisters of Nazareth.
The inquiry was shown a BBC documentary from 1998 focusing on the allegations of survivors who had stayed at Nazareth House institutions.
Archbishop Conti became Bishop of Aberdeen in 1977 and was questioned about his knowledge of a children’s home in the city. Accepting that children had been abused there, he said: “I am deeply ashamed of what has been revealed and I express my pain and sorrow to those who were abused.
“Clearly all we are doing [in the inquiry] is an attempt to get to the truth and provide an opportunity for some redress at least in terms of saying sorry to those who have had bad experiences. I hope they will find it in their hearts to forgive their abusers and to forgive me if they feel I was insensitive to their pain,” he said.
The group In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas) called for the archbishop emeritus to be brought before the inquiry to justify a series of controversial comments he was said to have made.
In May, the abuse inquiry heard that he allegedly told an abuse survivor that “people should move on”, and that he then “didn’t even sit down or ask how [the victim] was or offer any sympathy or anything”.
The witness, using the pseudonym Christina, claimed that she had told him of physical and sexual abuse she suffered at the Nazareth House home in Cardonald, Glasgow, after she was admitted in 1977, at the age of eight.
Joseph Currie, 64, said he endured about four years of sexual abuse as a teenager by a male helper at a home run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Aberdeen. He claimed that he told the archbishop, then Father Conti, during confession about abuse he had suffered.
He said that the archbishop told him to pray for his abuser. He told the hearing: “I do not know why he [Father Conti] never acted on it. He could have easily had a word with the mother superior and said, ‘Get rid of this man who’s been abusing one of the boys’.”
Incas also told the inquiry that it had seen letters written by the then Bishop Conti. Simon Collins, its representative, said: “In one, while discussing arrangements for refreshments at some sort of demonstration in favour of the sisters, he makes what appears to be a reference to survivors as ‘the opposition’.
“In another, he issues the challenge that ‘those who call others to account for their actions must be prepared to defend their own when they make allegations’. Such remarks were certainly felt by survivors as pressure and threats.”
Police have received 308 complaints about 194 people involved in homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth over a 50-year period.