Archbishop will go in wake of abuse case scandal

Catholic Church: Archbishop John Ward tells of his 'deep sorrow' at ordaining a priest who was later jailed for sexually assaulting a boy
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The Independent Online

There was little ceremony when Archbishop John Ward, dressed in green vestments and a mitre, got to his feet in St Aloysius's Church on Merthyr Tydfil's Gurnos Estate yesterday morning.

There was little ceremony when Archbishop John Ward, dressed in green vestments and a mitre, got to his feet in St Aloysius's Church on Merthyr Tydfil's Gurnos Estate yesterday morning.

"These have been very difficult and trying days," he began his address to the 250-strong congregation. "I read this letter to you today to share with you all my deep sorrow and regret at the unhappy events that have so seriously marred our Catholic community over these last two years. These have been a source of painful distress, anguish, hurt, betrayal and anger."

By the time the Archbishop of Cardiff had finished speaking, he had revealed to the congregation on this down-at-heel estate, his intention to stand down after one of the more damaging child abuse scandals to hit the Catholic Church in this country in recent years.

While the 71-year-old Archbishop has not announced his retirement, he plans to ask the Pope to appoint a successor - or Coadjutor Archbishop - who will take over "when the time is right". Given the Archbishop's somewhat fragile health following a recent stroke and the extent of the anger and controversy surrounding this episode, some in the church feel the "right time" may be sooner rather than later.

Simon Lister, the assistant editor of the Catholic journal, The Tablet, told The Western Mail, the Archbishop's local newspaper: "I think his position is untenable. I've never encountered such dissatisfaction with a bishop as I have in Cardiff. Obviously there are priests who don't like the Archbishop and his management style. I'd be extremely surprised if the Archbishop is still running the diocese of Cardiff in four years' time."

Such anger centres on claims that the Archbishop failed to take account of warnings from parishioners and colleagues that two of the priests in his South Wales diocese could be paedophiles.

One of the priests, Father Joe Jordan, was earlier this year sentenced to eight years in jail for assaulting two nine year-olds last year and for indecently assaulting a 12-year-old boy in the 1980s. The 42-year-old met the two most recent victims by exploiting his position as chaplain to Cardiff City Football Club, a role he combined with that of parish priest for the town of Barry, near Cardiff.

But after the case at Cardiff Crown Court it emerged that Archbishop Ward had ordained Jordan in 1998 in the knowledge that he had been charged but acquitted of indecently assaulting a young boy in 1990, while working in Doncaster.

When Jordan moved to Wales in 1995, the Right Rev Christopher Budd, the Bishop of Plymouth - the city where Jordan was there working - wrote to Archbishop Ward informing him of the case.

The archbishop sent Jordan to see a psychiatrist but - according to the psychiatrist - he crucially did not ask for a paedophile assessment of Jordan. This was in contravention of the church's own guidelines for countering child abuse, issued in 1994.

It is also alleged that a number of priests who trained with Jordan also raised their concerns over other incidents with the Archbishop but that he did not see any "danger signs".

One such priest Fr Chris Higgins told last night's BBC Panorama programme: "I related some incidents to the archbishop where Joe had not behaved in an appropriate manner... he concluded the appointment by thanking me for saying what I'd said and then said that he was wise enough to know what was right for Jordan and for his diocese."

Another priest, Fr Philip Dixon, said: "This was a disaster that needn't have happened... if the information had been properly acted on. I think he's unfit for office."

There are also allegations that Archbishop Ward failed to act on warnings from parishioners about Father John Lloyd - one of his close colleagues and a former press spokesman - who was jailed for eight years in 1998 after being convicted of 11 charges of indecent assault, one of rape and one of buggery.

The archbishop was yesterday unavailable for comment, but speaking on Panorama last night he said he believed at the time had done nothing wrong in ordaining a man who had been acquitted. He added that he considered the warnings from other priests amounted to nothing more than "immaturity" on the part of Jordan. He said he saw no danger signs. "I take responsibility for what happened," he said. "As far as I understood things, I acted appropriately and in good faith. I did not deliberately let in anyone who was a paedophile. I did take what I thought was appropriate at the time."

Those close to the Archbishop say he has been genuinely saddened and concerned by recent events. His decision to write to the Pope asking for him to appoint a successor, followed a meeting with his representative in Britain, the apostolic nuncio, Bishop Pablo Puente, at his home in Wimbledon, south-west London, last week.

The archbishop's address was read aloud in churches in all of the archdiocese's 79 parishes at services this weekend. But the episode has had an effect far beyond the confines of South Wales, again focusing attention on one of the Catholic Church's more obvious problems.

Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary to the bishops of England and Wales and a member of the working party which drew up the 1994 guidelines to counter abuse, said: "In a sense the problem has been self-inflicted. When we drew up the guidelines which said you had to report suspicions of child abuse, we did, in a way, bring this on ourselves.

"You could say that the fact that some have been found is a mark of our success.

"One of the most difficult problems is when you have suspicions of child abuse but when the police or the Crown Prosecution Service does not feel there is sufficient evidence.

There is a case at the moment where one archbishop asked the police to investigate a priest and though they said they were not certain the allegations were true, he still placed the priest on administrative leave until the matter can be sorted."