Child abuse 'hotspots' uncovered in five Catholic dioceses
By Helen Studd, Ruth Gledhill and Claire McDonald
PAEDOPHILE priests have flourished in pockets around the country after church authorities failed to put a stop to their activities, it was claimed yesterday.
Margaret Kennedy, founder of the victim support group Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said that questions had to be asked as to why sex abusers migrated to specific hotspots in the West Midlands and South East where they obviously “felt safe”.
In a letter to The Times today the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, denies that he turned a blind eye to the problems of paedophile priests in his former diocese of Arundel and Brighton. He acknowledges, however, that it was a mistake to appoint Father Michael Hill to the chaplaincy of Gatwick airport after receiving “conflicting psychiatric reports”. “I am deeply sorry for the damage he has done, and to the extent that my decision contributed to any of that damage,” he writes.
Hill will be sentenced today for a further string of sex offences on boys in addition to those that led him to being jailed in 1997.
An investigation by The Times has found that five Roman Catholic dioceses — Birmingham, Arundel and Brighton, Cardiff, Salford and Northampton — are all investigating multiple allegations of sexual abuse. Most involve young altar boys, disable children, children in church care homes and boys being tutored by priests.
Although not all of the allegations have been made through the police, the dioceses have all been notified of them.
Allegations have been made against seven priests who worked in the Arundel and Brighton diocese in the early 1980s and 1990s and one who is believed still to be practising. Four further allegations have been made in the archdiocese of Birmingham, two in Cardiff, two in Northampton and one involving a priest and another church employee in Salford. Westminster diocese is also believed to have a number of similar ongoing cases, although it refused to confirm how many.
“The main thing we have to ask ourselves is why we have these hotspots around certain areas,” Ms Kennedy said. “It is common knowledge that there are paedophile rings and networks set up by sex offenders, but you have to wonder why (if the allegations are proved) they felt it was safe to practise their activities in these areas and whether they knew that certain people were inclined to turn a blind eye to it. It provokes questions about a level of tolerance in some areas.”
The Times disclosed yesterday that some victims of paedophile priests had received “hush money” from the Roman Catholic Church in the form of compensation payments with confidentiality clauses.
In his letter Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor says that strict guidelines adopted by the Church last year meant that in cases where no police prosecution resulted but where allegations were regarded as well-founded, the priest would now be removed from active ministry. This was not the case in the 1980s.
Victims of abuse are free to seek compensation and to instruct solicitors on their behalf. “Hush money is a deliberate misnomer,” he says. “Compensation is agreed between solicitors acting in a professional capacity, and in accordance with agreed norms.”
The archdiocese of Birmingham has the country’s highest rate of sexual and child abuse allegations. Two priests from the Father Hudson’s Society in Coleshill, Warwickshire, Eric Taylor and Sammuel Penny, were each jailed for seven years in the 1990s after police suspected that they had been running a paedophile ring at the same children’s home.
West Midlands Police are now investigating a further allegation by Mark Hall, an 18-year-old Cambridge University student, against Father Richard Dinnis, 62, a parish priest for St Catherine of Siena Church in Birmingham. Mr Hall, who was coached for his Cambridge interview by Father Dinnis, claims the priest indecently assaulted him a number of times after he turned 16. Father Dinnis rejected claims of a sexual relationship, but wrote to the student’s parents apologising for the “inappropriateness” of his behaviour. Similar allegations were made against Father Dinnis by a boy of 15, but the police did not press charges.
The archdiocese, where theMost Rev Vincent Nichols succeeded the Most Rev Maurice Couve de Murville as Archbishop in February 2000, confirmed yesterday that police were also continuing their investigations into Father Stephen Mellor, a parish priest from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, who was initially charged with creating indecent computer-generated images of children.
The High Court in London has also given permission for Simon Grey, a 36-year-old former altar boy, to sue the archdiocese over claims that he was abused by Father Christopher Clonan in Coventry in the 1980s.
Earlier this year West Midlands Police decided not to press ahead with charges against Father John Tolkein, another parish priest in Birmingham, who was found unfit to stand trial.
All the dioceses involved denied that they were a magnet for paedophiles and said they were doing everything possible to stamp out child abuse within the Catholic Church.
The Archbishop of Birmingham said he had already made several public apologies for historic cases of abuse. “We have a transparent policy where any priest who transgresses will be very severely dealt with. There will be no cover-up here,” a spokesman said.