John Francis Reuel Tolkien

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Fr John Tolkien
John Francis Reuel Tolkien

16 November 1917
Died22 January 2003(2003-01-22) (aged 85)
EducationDragon School
The Oratory School
Alma materExeter College, Oxford
English College, Rome
OccupationPriest, chaplain
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Congregations served
Our Lady and St Peter, Stoke-on-Trent (1966–1987)

John Francis Reuel Tolkien (16 November 1917 – 22 January 2003) was an English priest and the eldest son of J. R. R. Tolkien. He served as a parish priest in Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, and Stoke-on-Trent. He was also a chaplain at the University College of North Staffordshire and to two schools. During his life time and after his death, there were a number of allegations of child sexual abuse against him: he was questioned by the police but never charged or convicted.


He was born in Cheltenham on 16 November 1917. He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and The Oratory School in Caversham, Berkshire where in his final year he decided to become a priest. On the advice of the Archbishop he decided to go to college to study English and joined Exeter College, Oxford from where he received his B.A. degree in 1939. In November 1939, he went to the English College, Rome to train as a priest. Due to the outbreak of World War II, the college was moved to Stonyhurst in Lancashire where John trained as a priest during the war.

Clerical career[edit]

He was ordained as a priest at St John and Augustine Church in North Oxford. His first position was as a curate from 1946 to 1950 at the St Mary and St Benedict Church in Coventry where he taught weekly classes to 60 children and organized the building of church schools. From 1950 to 1957, he was a curate at the English Martyrs Church in Sparkhill, Birmingham. Thereafter he moved to North Staffordshire, where he was the chaplain of University College of North Staffordshire, now Keele University and at two grammar schools, St Joseph's College, Trent Vale and St Dominic’s High School, Hartshill. He was parish priest at Knutton Roman Catholic Church from 1957 to 1966. In 1966, he became the parish priest at Our Lady of the Angels and St Peter in Chains Church, Stoke-on-Trent. He held the position until 1987 and there oversaw the building of a new school. He was chairman of governors at Bishop Bright School, chaplain to the North Staffordshire Catholic Teachers Association and area chaplain to the Young Christian Students. He moved back to Oxford in 1987, settling in Eynsham where he was the parish priest at St. Peter's Catholic Church till his retirement in 1994. Father Tolkien also served in parishes in Oxford, Birmingham, and Warwickshire.[1][2][3][4]

Child sexual abuse[edit]

He is one of four Catholic priests in Birmingham included as part of a wider investigation into the Catholic church by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.[5] There was no conviction or civil finding against Fr John Tolkien.[6] There was also no finding of fact before either the civil or criminal courts.[7] Allegations, which were never proven in a court of law, were repeatedly and consistently denied.[8] Allegations were first put to him by the Sunday Mercury in November 2000. Due to dementia and lack of evidence Tolkien's solicitors were successful in seeking a high court injunction and the Sunday Mercury was unable publish until after Tolkien's death to avoid risk of defamation liability. After Tolkien's death the PCC ruled in Tolkien’s favour,[9] upheld the complaint and ordered the newspaper to print its adjudication.

Vincent Nichols, then Archbishop of Birmingham, authorised a payment of £15,000 in an out-of-court settlement without admission of liability[10] to Christopher Carrie who claimed in 1994 that he had been abused when he was 12[11] and claimed in 2003 he had been abused by Tolkien when he was 11.[12] The enquiry suggested, but could not prove that Diocesan documents showed that Nichols was aware of previous incidents involving Tolkien, however Nichols denied a cover up.[13] He said he had pressure from lawyers acting for the Tolkien family, who said Father Tolkien was by then in such poor health that he could not defend himself.[14]

One allegation was made at the Inquiry that in the 1950s when Tolkien was based in Sparkhill, he made a group of scouts strip naked. The exact circumstances were not detailed or explained.[15] Although he denied this until he died a note allegedly made by Archbishop Couve de Murville during an investigation in 1993[16] apparently showed that a complaint had been made to the archdiocese in 1968 that he abused two boys and he was sent for therapy. However the note no longer exists[17] and the inquiry were not able to assess it. Also, since the Archbishop was long since dead, he could not be questioned.[18] The allegations were first reported to the police in 1994.[19] The West Midlands Police appealed for Tolkien victims to come forward in 2000 after Carrie contacted them.[20] He was questioned in 2001 and a file sent to the Crown Prosecution Service who determined that there was no realistic prospect of prosecution and that any action would not be in the public interest. The archdiocese solicitors had found allegations by two people[21] and advised Nichols that “Carrie is likely to satisfy the (civil) court, Fr Tolkien abused him in the manner he alleges.”[22] Evidence from a deceased former altar boy who could not to swear an oath or be subject to cross examination or perjury[23] that Tolkien was a regular visitor to the school and was treated like royalty. Tolkien chose him to be an altar boy at Our Lady of the Angels and St Peter in Chains Church, Stoke-on-Trent. He was invited to Tolkien's house, which was next door, on Saturday morning for reading lessons. Tolkien said he was going to do a special ceremony for which he had been chosen where he had to kneel on a cushion stool and take his shorts down. He was molested by him and promised that this would see him anointed by Christ. This happened at least twice[24] in 1970.[25] He blames Tolkien, and the failure of the church to take effective action, for ruining his life.[26]

In 2019, The Observer reported that Tolkien had said, in a tape-recorded conversation with Carrie, that he was sexually abused by at least one of his father's friends as a child.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carpenter 2014, p. 104
  2. ^ Drout 2006, p. 667
  3. ^ Father John Tolkien Biography at Retrieved 2011-07-18.
  4. ^ John Francis Tolkien People of Stoke-on-Trent at Retrieved 2011-07-18.
  5. ^ "RC Archbishop of Birmingham apologises to abuse survivors". Church Times. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  6. ^ "paragraph 42" (PDF). IICSA.
  7. ^ "paragraph 92" (PDF). IICSA.
  8. ^ "paragraph 93" (PDF). IICSA.
  9. ^ "Messrs Manches on behalf of the Tolkien family". PCC.
  10. ^ "paragraph 102" (PDF). IICSA.
  11. ^ "Page 58, line 12" (PDF). IICSA.
  12. ^ "Payout over allegation against son of Tolkien". Times. 21 July 2003. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  13. ^ "Absent cardinal criticised for abuse failure". The Tablet. 14 November 2018. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  14. ^ "Cardinal Nichols shocked to learn vicar sent two paedophiles to US". Catholic Universe. 14 December 2018. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  15. ^ "page 53" (PDF). IICSA.
  16. ^ "Catholic priest John Tolkien returned to Birmingham ministry despite ordering scouts to strip naked". Birmingham Live. 12 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  17. ^ "paragraph 101" (PDF). IICSA.
  18. ^ "Catholic priest John Tolkien 'made scouts strip' claim not reported". BBC. 12 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  19. ^ "Roman Catholic cardinal denies covering up actions of sex abuse claim priest". ITV. 13 December 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Tolkien's son is questioned over child sex allegations". Telegraph. 6 January 2002. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  21. ^ "page 28, lines 6,7" (PDF). IICSA.
  22. ^ "Cardinal denies covering up actions of sex abuse claim priest who was son of 'Lord of the Rings' author". Irish Examiner. 13 December 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  23. ^ "page 58" (PDF). IICSA.
  24. ^ "Tolkien, the altar boy and a life of torment". Birmingham Live. 18 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Birmingham Catholic church sex abuse victims treated as 'scourge'". BBC. 13 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  26. ^ "Tolkien, the altar boy and a life of torment". Birmingham Live. 18 November 2018. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  27. ^ "JRR Tolkien's son 'sexually abused by one of father's friends'". The Observer (via www.theguardian). 28 Apr 2019.
  28. ^ Scorer, Richard (2014-03-27). Betrayed: The English Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 9781849547260.