Catholic bishop didn’t report sex predator priest to the police

Liverpool Echo [Liverpool, England]

October 10, 2021

By Neil Docking

The Bishop of Hallam knew about a priest who preyed on altar boys in Liverpool

A Catholic bishop told about sex abuse by a priest at a Liverpool monastery didn’t report him to the police, a court heard.

Father Thomas MacCarte groomed and molested two altar boys at Bishop Eton Monastery in Woolton Road, Childwall.

But when one victim’s dad complained to Bishop Eton’s then parish priest Ralph Heskett – now the Bishop of Hallam in Sheffield – MacCarte was moved to Scotland.

MacCarte, now 70, was found guilty of three counts of indecent assault, relating to sex attacks when he was based in Merseyside three decades ago.

A trial at Liverpool Crown Court heard the boy’s dad “immediately complained” to Bishop Heskett when his son told him at the time about “sexual things” MacCarte had done to him.

Robert Wyn Jones, prosecuting, said: “It was agreed that the matter would be dealt with by the church internally and Father MacCarte was moved away to Scotland, with the promise that he would be sent on a course.

“These things were dealt with rather differently back then.”

The jury heard evidence from the boy’s dad, who said he last saw MacCarte in the early 1990s “after I complained about him to the parish priest”.

He said when his son was a teenager, he would often spend time in the priests’ private rooms at the monastery, which was “very normal back then”.

The dad recalled his son told him that he and a friend had been in MacCarte’s room and “Father MacCarte had tried to get them into bed”.

He said: “I immediately went to talk to Ralph Heskett, the parish priest at the time, about these concerns and Father MacCarte was then sent to Scotland.

“I have not seen Father MacCarte since. This was the end of the matter and nothing about Father MacCarte was mentioned again until recently.”

Bishop Heskett, now 68, was redemptorist superior and pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation at Bishop Eton from 1987 to 1990.

He returned to Merseyside in a different role at Bishop Eton in the late 2000s, then became the Bishop of Gibraltar in 2010, and was announced as the Bishop of Hallam by Pope Francis in 2014.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Hallam falls within the ecclesiastical province of Liverpool.

The ECHO has made numerous attempts to contact Bishop Heskett, both by phone and email, to ask whether he wished to respond to what was said in court.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Liverpool said: “It is with deep shock and sadness that the Catholic community learned of the behaviour of Thomas MacCarte.

“We take such matters extremely seriously and we will, of course, fully cooperate with the authorities to provide any information we possess that they may require.

The Bishop of Hallam Ralph Heskett, formerly parish priest at Bishop Eton in Childwall, Liverpool (Image: Liverpool Echo)
The Bishop of Hallam Ralph Heskett, formerly parish priest at Bishop Eton in Childwall, Liverpool (Image: Liverpool Echo)

“Thomas MacCarte is a priest under the jurisdiction of the Redemptorist order and not the Archdiocese of Liverpool, therefore we are unable to provide any further or specific details.”

The ECHO was directed by the Archdiocese of Liverpool to Fr Richard Reid, formerly based at Bishop Eton, who is now Redemptorist Provincial Superior at St Mary’s Monastery, in Clapham, London.

We asked Fr Reid whether Bishop Heskett wished to comment on the decision to move MacCarte to Scotland.

Fr Reid said: “The congregation has learned that, after careful considerations, the jury have made a finding of guilt. We deeply appreciate how emotional this must be for everyone involved.

“As a congregation, we will continue to cooperate with the process and to comply with our safeguarding responsibilities, as we reflect on the findings of the court and the impact on all those involved.

“It is not appropriate for us to comment further while the sentence of the court is awaited.”

The trial heard MacCarte let altar boys smoke cannabis and drink alcohol at Bishop Eton so he could sexually abuse them.

One victim, Boy A, thought the priest was “cool” for allowing them to hang out in his room, and not lecturing them about sex or lust.

However, prosecutors said “there was another side” to MacCarte, who used his role at Bishop Eton for his own sexual gratification and ruined children’s lives.

Mr Wyn Jones said: “He was very tactile. He would stroke his hair in a way that was far too affectionate. He would talk about sex and mutual masturbation.”

Father Thomas MacCarte sexually abused two altar boys (Image: Liverpool Echo)
Father Thomas MacCarte sexually abused two altar boys (Image: Liverpool Echo)

The court heard one time Boy A helped MacCarte get home, after the priest had drunk too much.

Mr Wyn Jones said MacCarte “grabbed Boy A by the head and forced his head under his cassock to the area of his penis”.

The prosecutor added: “He was clothed but Boy A remembers smelling the stale urine and pulled his head away.”

The jury heard when Boy A visited MacCarte, the priest would question him about masturbation and give him money.

Mr Wyn Jones said “vulnerable” Boy B turned to Father MacCarte for help when he was undergoing psychological problems.

He said MacCarte “spoke kindly to him and gave him alcohol”, just as he had Boy A, and showed him gay pornography.