The former spokesman for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales today denied that his behaviour over the issue of abortion was a “classic example of hypocrisy”.
Austen Ivereigh, 41, says he resigned his £46,000-a-year job as head of public affairs for the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, because a June 2006 article in the Daily Mail presented him as a “man without honour”.
His QC, Ronald Thwaites told Mr Justice Eady and a jury at the High Court that it falsely alleged that he was a hypocrite for not practising what he preached in relation to two women in his life.
Ivereigh strongly disputes their claims that he failed to support the women when they became pregnant and put them in a position where they felt they had no choice but to have abortions.
Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, denies libel, saying the story is true.
Cross-examination by Mark Warby QC, for Associated Newspapers, Ivereigh said that “careless” sex during a “typical student” relationship with a girlfriend at Oxford in 1989 led to pregnancy.
He said that he was a non-practising Catholic at the time but did believe that abortion was the taking of human life.
He said the girl knew she had his support, although he felt it was too early for marriage, but that she went ahead with an abortion against his wishes after her mother convinced her that she was incapable of being a mother and her career would be ruined.
He denied Warby’s contention that the girl decided on an abortion after he told her, during a walk in the Meadows, that although they had no future, he would go to court to take the child away if she took up with another man, “because she had shown herself unfit to be the mother of a Catholic child”.
Ivereigh said that he told her the opposite – that he was prepared to give up the child to her if she met someone later on. He was appalled about the abortion and retreated into himself.
He denied that he “dumped” the girl after the abortion but told her that they both needed to “move on” about 10 days afterwards. Feeling isolated within their group of friends, Ivereigh began a relationship with another woman six weeks later.
Asked if that was “callous”, he replied: “In retrospect, it was insensitive. “She was still very distraught for a long time afterwards. My perception was we were very much now in two different camps.”
Warby: “Your behaviour towards her was a classic example of hypocrisy. You were making out that you wanted this child but doing absolutely nothing to make this a possibility.”
Ivereigh: “I absolutely reject that.”
He said that when he began a sexual relationship with a divorcee – who can only be identified as Madame X – in 2005, she told him that he did not need to worry about contraception.
When Madame X discovered she was pregnant, in February 2006, she was devastated and talked of abortion, which shocked him although he did not take it seriously.
Although he did not think that they were yet ready to marry, he woke her one morning at 4am to propose, and she accepted.
But, after she discovered she was expecting twins, there were two difficult weeks of non-communication, which led to him writing her a letter in March, expressing concern that she was not taking responsibility for the relationship.
“I reached the conclusion that she simply did not love me, so I wrote her the letter saying we couldn’t get married under these circumstances. I certainly envisaged that in future we would get married.”
When Madame X told him that she wanted nothing more to do with him and was having an abortion, he was desperate to deter her.
He disputed Warby’s claim that it was “nothing more than words” and lacked any concrete financial offer of help.
“I had every intention of doing everything necessary for those children to come into the world.”
The day after the couple rowed on the phone, Madame X miscarried both twins, although he did not learn about the event until May when, he claimed, she rebuffed his attempt at reconciliation.
Warby put to Ivereigh that he had behaved hypocritically towards the women when they became pregnant and placed them both in situations “where they felt forced to contemplate abortion” because he failed to offer them practical and concrete support, and accused him of acting “hypocritically, contrary to the belief of your Church, and in a callous and cruel way to both these women”. Ivereigh replied: “And I deny that.”
Under re-examination by Thwaites, Ivereigh said he did not bear either of the women any ill will.
Referring to Madame X, he said: “I have always said from the beginning of this litigation that my earnest hope is that at the end of it there can be reconciliation and healing.”
Asked what he meant by reconciliation, Ivereigh told the court: “In the case of Madame X we need to forgive each other for hurting each other as we clearly did.”
His relationship at Oxford was “a long time ago and we clearly have different memories”, but again he felt no ill will. He added: “I care about both these people and that is why I hope afterwards there can be this reconciliation.”
Asked how he felt today about the loss of the twins, he said: “They were my children and I am sorry that they weren’t born.”
Thwaites asked how he felt about the way he had been taken through events “in the way that you have been by Mr Warby”.
He replied: “The word that comes to mind is eviscerated – in other words having your guts taken apart.”
Mr Ivereigh said he thought Mr Warby was trying to imply that he was a “generally despicable human being”.