Sheffield bishop Ralph Heskett ‘failed to report priest who sexually abused altar boys’

The Star [Sheffield, Yorkshire, England]

October 11, 2021

By Neil Docking

A Catholic bishop in Sheffield has been accused of failing to report the sexual abuse of altar boys.

Bishop of Hallam Ralph Heskett is claimed to have known about a priest who preyed on altar boys in Liverpool but failed to report him to the police, with the culprit instead sent away to Scotland.

It is alleged that Bishop Heskett, formerly parish priest at Bishop Eton in Childwall, Liverpool, was told about sex abuse by a priest at a Liverpool monastery but did not report him to the police.

During a court case in Liverpool, Father Thomas MacCarte was convicted of grooming 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, MacCarte was moved to Scotland instead of being reported to the police.

MacCarte, now 70, was found guilty this week 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 a victim’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.”

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

Prosecutors said he used his role in the church for his own sexual gratification and ruined children’s lives.

Bishop of Hallam, Ralph Heskett, has been accused of failing to report the sexual abuse of altar boys
Bishop of Hallam, Ralph Heskett, has been accused of failing to report the sexual abuse of altar boys

Bishop Heskett, now 68, was announced as the Bishop of Hallam by Pope Francis in 2014.

In a statement, the Diocese of Hallam said: “It was with deep sadness that we heard during the recent court proceedings in Liverpool, the details of Thomas MacCarte’s criminal behaviour. Our thoughts are first and foremost with those who were abused and with their families.

“Although we can confirm that Bishop (then Father) Heskett was the parish priest at Bishop Eton in the early 1990s; he was not, however, the Provincial of the Order and did not move Thomas MacCarte from Liverpool.

“Bishop Heskett has been and remains a friend of the survivor’s family and will continue to support victims and survivors of all forms of abuse. If you have been abused we would urge you to come forward and report the matter to the Safeguarding department.”

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.

Fr Richard Reid, formerly based at Bishop Eton, who is now Redemptorist Provincial Superior at St Mary’s Monastery, in Clapham, London, 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 two victims went to the police in 2019, after they discovered they had both been molested by the same priest.

MacCarte, now of St Mary’s Monastery, Hatton Road, Perth, Scotland, will be sentenced later this month.