The former bishop of Aberdeen has said he is “embarrassed” by comments he made 20 years ago about child abuse survivors being motivated by a “pot of gold”.
Archbishop Mario Conti was appearing before the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry which is currently hearing evidence of alleged abuse at institutions run by the Sisters of Nazareth.
Archbishop Conti, 84, said he had previously allowed himself to be “blindly satisfied” that everything was fine at Nazareth House in Aberdeen. He said the Sisters of Nazareth had exercised a degree of autonomy, meaning the home was not routinely inspected by the Catholic Church.
He told the inquiry he was “taken aback” when visited by officers from Grampian Police in the late 1990s investigating allegations of abuse.
The inquiry was shown a BBC Frontline Scotland documentary from 1998 which Archbishop Conti admitted he had only seen within the past month, despite being interviewed for the programme.
The documentary heard from former residents of four Scottish children’s homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth who said they had been beaten, force-fed and humiliated for wetting the bed. There were also allegations of sexual abuse.
Appearing in the programme, the then Bishop Conti said he believed the claims were being motivated by lawyers “dangling a pot of gold”, a reference to civil actions being brought against the Sisters of Nazareth.
Asked about the comment after the screening had finished, Archbishop Conti said: “I was embarrassed when I saw that.”
The inquiry also heard that during his time as bishop, he had written a letter to the mother superior of the religious order in which he described the abuse survivors as “the opposition”.
He said it had been “entirely appropriate” to use that sort of language to “persuade and identify” with the person he was writing to as he attempted to organise a reconciliation between the two sides.
Archbishop Conti told the inquiry he believed those appearing in the documentary to be “credible”, but he said some of the allegations about Nazareth House remained “fantastical”.
Asked about his opinion of the abuse now, he said: “I am deeply ashamed and I express my pain and sorrow to those that have been abused.”
He added: “I hope they find it in their hearts to forgive their abusers and forgive me if they thought I was insensitive to their suffering.”
The inquiry continues.