Thursday, June 4, 1998 Published at 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Paedophile priest's sentence cut
Former maths teacher Chaning-Pearce assaulted boys in a treehouse
A Jesuit priest who sexually abused boys at a Roman Catholic public school had his five-year jail sentence cut to three years after a High Court appeal funded by church leaders.
James Chaning-Pearce was convicted at Preston Crown Court of molesting four boys as young as 12 while a maths teacher at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire between 1987 and 1995.
The Society of Jesus, a tight-knit Jesuit organisation which runs the £12,000-a-year school, had funded his appeal against his convictions in respect of one of the boys.
Last September at Preston, Chaning-Pearce admitted indecently assaulting three boys, aged 15, 13 and 12, but denied four counts of molesting the 16-year-old.
But three appeal judges said the jury which convicted Chaning-Pearce had not been adequately directed on whether a 16-year-old pupil had consented on three occasions.
'Why was he supported?'
Children's charities have condemned the actions of Catholic leaders who funded the appeal, the cost of which is not known.
"I think that it does not bode very well for children who have been abused by a priest. They will obviously be frightened of disclosing this and think, 'They are all in this together'."
Father Michael Smith of the Society of Jesus, said Pearce was still considered a member of their family.
'He had the right to appeal'
"Like everyone else he had a right to appeal. He has always disputed the offence, while pleading guilty to the other three.
"As he was given leave to appeal we took the decision to fund the action."
The Society removed Pearce, who is still a priest, from the school in 1995 after receiving a letter alleging similar behaviour by him while working at a school in Zimbabwe a decade earlier.
But police were not called in until a year later after parents of one of the boys reported an assault to the school.
One of his victims is now seeking compensation. Pearce was ordained 24 years ago and, like most of the world's 24,000 Jesuits, spent 15 years training for the priesthood.
At the time of his trial the Society blamed a breakdown in communication for their failure to take heed of warnings about the priest's behaviour while abroad.
Before being convicted, the Jesuits had sent him to Canada for psychiatric treatment and he later went to Our Lady of Victories, in Gloucestershire, the retreat where fallen priests from the UK and the Irish Republic are sent.