How Much Longer?

Northern Echo
December 6, 2008

INCREDIBLY it is now four years since Father Michael Higginbottom was removed from his post as parish priest at St Augustine's Church, in Darlington.

Father Higginbottom was suspended on December 10, 2004 when the church announced that investigations had begun into "information" received against him. Since then he has not taken a service, despite being officially still in charge. His baffled parishioners have been kept in the dark. They have not been told why he was suspended and have no idea when, or even if, he will return.

Police sources have confirmed to The Northern Echo that no allegations of a sexual or violent nature have been made and Fr Higginbottom has never been interviewed. His whereabouts are now unclear.

Before his suspension Fr Higginbottom was a hard working and well-liked parish priest. His continued suspension is an intolerable situation. The Catholic church should be ashamed of itself.

UK employment law states that an employee can be suspended on full pay pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct. That suspension would usually last no longer than five days.

We have no idea if Fr Higginbottom is suspended for reasons of gross misconduct.

Had he worked in any other walk of life his continued suspension would be classed as an abuse of human rights.

Why should the church authorities be any different? How much longer must this man be asked to put his life on hold without being told if he is to be condemned or declared innocent? And how much longer must the frustrated parishioners of St Augustine's be treated like children who are not mature enough to cope with the truth?

We do have some hope that the appointment of a new bishop, following the death of the Right Reverend Kevin Dunn, in March, may finally bring this protracted saga to a conclusion.


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