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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 21:43 GMT
Cardinal defends handling of abuse scandal
Cormac Murphy O'Connor
The Cardinal has admitted naivety over child abuse

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales says he has never considered resigning over the sex abuse scandal.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was speaking at a briefing for journalists at which he defended the way he dealt with priests accused of abusing children.

The cardinal, who is the Archbishop of Westminster, has faced questions over his actions when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.

He has already admitted being "naive" over allegations of child abuse, and accepts he was wrong to have moved one abusing priest, Father Michael Hill, to the chaplaincy of Gatwick Airport.

I have always been concerned for truth, transparency, and the protection of children

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Last month Hill was jailed for five years after being convicted of further offences.

The new criticism of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor concerns his response to another priest who came under suspicion several years ago.

He was never found guilty of any offence, but he was removed from parish ministry and instructed not to have any contact with children.

But according to media reports, the priest was later moved into a house overlooking a primary school, and he broke an agreement with his superiors by saying Mass at a church in a neighbouring diocese.

Correct procedure

During persistent questioning about the case, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said the priest was not judged to be a paedophile, and had not admitted any crimes.

"He did not confess to me that he had abused children, but I continued to have concerns about him," he said.

Following assessment, the priest was sent for treatment at a psychiatric hospital in the United States.

Cardinal Bernard Law
Cardinal Bernard Law: Accused of cover-up in US
He was allowed to return to his parish for a short time "to wind up his affairs" - a decision that Cardinal Murphy O'Connor concedes would not be taken today.

The cardinal said that the files on 10 accused priests from his former diocese had been sent to an independent expert, to assess his response.

In every case, he said, the church was judged to have followed the correct procedure according to the guidelines then in force.

"I took the allegations very seriously," said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.

"They were very grave, and damaging, not just to me but to the diocese."

The cardinal has clearly been upset by suggestions in the media that abusing priests have been allowed to remain in posts where they have access to children.

Nothing to hide

Referring to "allegations and innuendo", he said some of the speculation had been unfair.

"The impression was given that I was negligent and shielding paedophile priests," he said.

"I followed the procedures available to me at that time. No priest who was a threat to children was left in parish ministry.

"I have always been concerned for truth, transparency, and the protection of children."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor refused to comment on the resignation of the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, following allegations that he covered up the activities of paedophile priests.

But when asked if he had ever considered resigning, the Archbishop of Westminster said he had not.

"I did not think I had done anything wrong," he said.

"I knew things that were said about me were untrue. There has been no pressure on me from the priests or the people."

In response to another question, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said he had not been contacted by the police.

"If the police want to interview me, I have no problem with it," he told journalists.

"I have nothing to hide."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Lomax
"The cardinal said he was concerned for truth and transparency"
Labour MP Deborah Shipley
"I'm sure that there are still people in office who are very questionable"
See also:

13 Dec 02 | Americas
16 Dec 02 | Americas
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