Mystery of Parish Priest Continues

Northern Echo [Northern Ireland]
December 11, 2006

Frustrated parishioners still do not know why their priest was suspended - two years after the Catholic church removed him.

On December 10, 2004, Father Michael Higginbottom was withdrawn from St Augustine's Roman Catholic Church, Darlington, pending an investigation by the Hexham and Newcastle diocese child protection officer.

Two years on, the congregation do not know why he was suspended, when he will return, or if he will return.

They have organised a collection to buy Fr Higginbottom a gift - though they do not know where it will be sent.

The Northern Echo yesterday contacted the Minsteracres monastic retreat, near Consett, County Durham, where Fr Higginbottom moved to after his suspension. A spokesman said Fr Higginbottom left in February, and now lives at an address near Newcastle. His name and Darlington phone number are still printed in St Augustine's newsletter.

After mass yesterday, there was frustration at the secrecy surrounding the inquiry.

"Nobody knows anything," one parishioner said. "We know as much as anybody else. We think it is time it was resolved."

Parishioners said Fr Higginbottom - who is still in touch with some members of St Augustine's - was missed by all.

It is thought the investigation focuses on when Fr Higginbottom was teaching at Upholland College, a monastic training institute near Wigan. He taught there in the 1970s and 1980s, and joined St Augustine's in 1998.

The police have been involved in the investigation, but Fr Higginbottom has never been arrested.

Father Dennis Tindall, the diocese child protection officer leading the investigation, said: "No information can be given at this time. When there is something to report, there will be a statement from the diocese and Fr Michael."


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