Archbishop let paedophile priest return to work

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The new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster was embroiled in controversy yesterday because of his decision to let a paedophile priest continue to work in spite of concerns over his behaviour.

The new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster was embroiled in controversy yesterday because of his decision to let a paedophile priest continue to work in spite of concerns over his behaviour.

The Most Rev Cormac Murphy-O'Connor allowed Father Michael Hill to work as a chaplain after receiving therapy. Hill was later jailed for five years for 10 sex attacks on altar boys and other children.

The families of Hill's victims launched a civil action against the Roman Catholic Church over the way the case was handled and, BBC Radio 5 Live reported yesterday, have now been paid compensation in an out-of-court settlement.

The Archbishop said yesterday that he "regretted exceedingly what happened" but insisted he had not been irresponsible in taking the controversial decision, made in 1985 when he was the Bishop of Arundel. Hill's licence was revoked in 1983 amid concerns about his behaviour towards children, but he was allowed to take up the position of chaplain at Gatwick airport, where it was thought he would have less contact with children. He later abused a boy with learning difficulties he met at the chapel after the boy missed a flight. He was jailed in 1997 after a series of offences came to light.

Yesterday the Archbishop issued a statement saying he had not acted irresponsibly. He said: "It is true to say that if the strict procedures for child protection that are now in place ... had been in operation in 1985, then [Father Hill's] situation would have been handled differently. With the facts then known to me, the decisions made at that time in his regard were not irresponsible."

The Diocese of Arundel and Brighton issued its own statement yesterday, which said: "In 1983, after concerns had been raised with diocesanclergy and Bishop Murphy-O'Connor, Fr Michael Hill was removed from his parish in Heathfield [in East Sussex] for professional assessment and later therapy.

"In the light of advice received, following that treatment, Bishop Murphy-O'Connor withdrew Fr Hill's licence to work in a parish. In 1985, based on the professional advice which had been given - and which had included as one option that Fr Hill work in a limited pastoral capacity - he was then offered an industrial chaplaincy.

"The Diocese of Arundel and Brighton has paid compensation to certain individuals who were victims of Fr Michael Hill, who was convicted in 1997 of offences relating to the abuse of young persons in the diocese.

"The diocesan trustees concluded the settlement of a compensation claim on a voluntary basis to save the claimants ... the ordeal of giving evidence before a civil court. The trustees also wish to convey to the individuals concerned and their families their deepest sympathy for what they had to endure as a result of Fr Hill's offences."

A spokesman for the Catholic Church, Nicholas Coote, said the Church had "acted sensibly, wisely and responsibly" over the affair.

But families of Hill's victims say the Church should have done more. The mother of one boy abused by Hill in Surrey told the BBC: "I went to see the bishop [Murphy-O'Connor] and told him what was going on. He said he would deal with it.

"Little did I know he would take Fr Hill from this parish and put him in another parish. He shouldn't have done that."

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