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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Archbishop defends paedophile move
Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor
Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor maintains he acted properly
One of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church in England and Wales has defended his decision to allow a known paedophile to continue working as a priest, despite warnings he would re-offend.

A BBC investigation found evidence suggesting Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ignored the advice of doctors and therapists that Father Michael Hill would carry on assaulting children.

Michael Hill
Michael Hill: Paedophile priest
Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor told BBC News 24 he "regretted exceedingly what happened" - namely that after he allowed Hill back to work in 1985 after suspending him as a priest, Hill went on to indecently assault more altar boys and was jailed in1997.

But the archbishop said he had been acting on advice from professionals at a time when the behaviour of child abusers was not as well understood as at present.


He said: "The risk I took and the action I took then were on the understanding that I had at that time, and many many other people had, of paedophilia - of child abuse.

"We were not aware at that time of its addictive nature and therefore the advice that we were often given by professionals was guarded, was sometimes ambiguous.

I went to see the bishop personally and told him what was going on; he said he would deal with it

Mother of one of Hill's victims
"If you were to say would I do that now in the light of the knowledge we have, not just me, I would say no I wouldn't."

Hill was jailed after pleading guilty to nine counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency, committed over a 20-year period.

In 1985, the archbishop - then Bishop of Arundel in West Sussex - allowed Hill back to work after earlier revoking his licence to work in a parish.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church, Nicholas Coote, said the then bishop had given Hill administrative leave, putting him into training for a secular job where he lived for an 18-month trial period as a private citizen, not as a priest.

But after the trial period, Hill convinced the Church he was a reformed character, said Mr Coote, and the priest was returned to pastoral duties.

He later became chaplain at Gatwick Airport where he abused a boy with learning difficulties.

Mr Coote said the Church had "acted sensibly, wisely and responsibly" over the affair.

The spokesman said it was now in the Catholic Church's guidelines to inform the police of such incidents, but he said parents themselves frequently did not want to go to law, for fear of putting their children through a trial.

"No one is stopping people going to the police," he added.

Bishop 'promised action'

But families' of Hill's victims say the Church should have done more.

The mother of one of the boys abused by Hill in Surrey told the BBC: "I went to see the bishop [Murphy-O'Connor] personally and told him what was going on. He said he would deal with it.

"But little did I know he would take Father Hill from this parish and put him in another parish. Well he shouldn't have done that."

Documents seen by the BBC suggest the archbishop ignored the advice of doctors and therapists who warned that Hill was likely to re-offend.

Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor has now agreed that boys abused by the priest should receive compensation, but as part of the settlement they were required not to speak publicly about what happened.

A BBC News investigation in 1999 revealed evidence that some Catholic bishops in the UK were failing to follow the church's child protection guidelines, allowing priests accused of child abuse to continue working.

Since 1994 the Catholic Church has had strict rules in place which state that if a complaint is made against a priest, social services should be informed and the priest removed from parish duties.

The BBC's David Sells
"The likes of Father Hill may always be lurking"
Nicholas Coote Catholic Church Spokesman
"The Archbishop acted sensibly and wisely and responsibly"
Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Murphy-O' Connor
"The addiction of paedophilia was just not known"
See also:

10 Jul 00 | Education
The child protection blacklists
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