Diocese Faces Questions over Its Response to Abuse-Claims Priest

Yorkshire Post
February 14, 2012

A CATHOLIC diocese which said it ordained a priest without knowing he had previously been sacked for sexual abuse of boys did not inform police even when it became aware of the dismissal.

Middlesbrough Diocese said it decided to await the outcome of an "extensive investigation" by Humberside Police into former staff at the St William's children's home rather than proactively tell detectives about Father Joseph O'Brien.

Humberside Police's inquiry was later heavily criticised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission for failing to follow up potential lines of inquiry.

The police probe ended without any investigation into Father O'Brien.

One of those failures was not acting when a former worker at the home, Noel Hartnett, told detectives in 2002 that Father O'Brien or Brother Ambrose O'Brien as he was then known had been sacked for sexually abusing boys.

The diocese denies it knew about the 1965 sacking when accepting Father O'Brien for clergy training in 1972 and ordination in 1975. It also denies the existence of a dossier allegedly compiled by a now-retired priest in the early 1990s about the allegations.

But it doesn't dispute the receipt of letters in 2004 and 2005 referring to the alleged dossier and which explicitly mentioned Father O'Brien's dismissal.

The diocese says it will not comment on a National Catholic Safeguarding Commission investigation but prior to the announcement of the inquiry it did answer some questions.

Asked why it didn't contact police, a spokesman said: "The Diocese did not have a specific allegation to investigate or report to the police and Father O'Brien could not be questioned because he was suffering from Alzheimer's.

"However, we were already in touch with Humberside Police and co-operating with them in relation to their investigation into St William's, which covered the period during which Father O'Brien (Brother Ambrose) was at St William's. It was therefore decided to allow the police to complete their investigation and await the outcome of that investigation. Despite their extensive investigation, no allegations or concerns about Father O'Brien have at any stage been brought to our attention by Humberside Police."

He went to say the diocese fully complied with the safeguarding procedures after receiving the correspondence in 2004 and 2005, which was up to six years before Father O'Brien died in 2010.

He said the diocese did not receive any direct complaint or allegation of abuse against Father O'Brien which it could investigate but still followed procedures which included ensuring no child was at risk from Fr. O'Brien.

"We established that Father O'Brien was no longer in active ministry and in his state of health was not a risk to children," the added. The priest's file for Father O'Brien held by the Bishop was examined and no record of any complaints, concerns or allegations of child abuse was found."

He reiterated the De La Salle Brotherhood had not raised any concerns when providing a reference when Father O'Brien applied to become a priest, adding "the Diocese therefore had no record of any allegations".

However it is known that the diocese had to be aware of Father O'Brien's dismissal for abuse prior to his death as the issue was raised during court proceedings in 2009.

A trial to decide whether the diocese or the De La Salle Brotherhood was responsible for the management of the home and therefore potentially responsible for civil claims heard direct evidence about the sacking, including a record found in archives.

This information was not passed to police.


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