Clergy who abuse over-16s face jail

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The Independent Online

Clergy who abuse their power by forming sexual relationships with young persons in their care who are over the age of consent face jail under tough new proposals being considered by the Government.

Clergy who abuse their power by forming sexual relationships with young persons in their care who are over the age of consent face jail under tough new proposals being considered by the Government.

The Home Office last night confirmed it was looking sympathetically at a plan by Tory peer Baroness Young to amend the Sexual Offences Bill to include the clergy as well as teachers and care workers under the new offence of abuse of trust. This is designed to protect young people over the age of 16 who are in full-time education or in a hospital, care home, community or residential home.

The move comes amid growing disquiet over the Catholic Church's handling of priests accused of child and sex abuse. The proposed law change follows the allegation last week that the Most Rev Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, knowingly allowed a paedophile priest to work in a ministry with access to children. He was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton at the time.

The case of Father Michael Hill, jailed for five years in 1997 for 10 sex attacks on altar boys and other children, is likely to increase support for the amendment in the Lords while putting the Government under pressure to back it.

The Birmingham diocese, which has been particularly plagued by child abuse, admitted last night that it had paid compensation to two victims of paedophile priests, though it is contesting several other legal actions. The Independent on Sunday knows of three priests in the diocese who were moved to different parishes, but later exposed as paedophiles.

Alan Draper - an adviser to the Motherwell diocese on child abuse, who wrote a report on the case of Father Sam Penney, jailed for seven-and-a-half years in 1993 for sexually abusing seven children in the Birmingham area - told the IoS: "I would call it a cover-up. There was a tendency to protect the institutions and to minimise the full impact of what was going on."

Two other priests - Fathers Eric Taylor and Ted O'Malley, both currently in jail - also moved around the diocese before being caught. Father Taylor was convicted of child abuse in 1975, but is alleged to have been allowed to carry out church duties between 1989 and 1996. In 1998, the priest was jailed for seven years on 18 charges of sexually abusing boys at Father Hudson's Children's Homes in Warwickshire for crimes dating back to the 1960s. A complaint against Father O'Malley is understood to have first been made to the church in 1987, but he continued to work in parishes for another 10 years until his conviction for indecent assault last year.

Monsignor John Moran, vicar general for the Birmingham diocese, vehemently denied there has ever been a cover-up. He told the IoS: "Priests are moved around for other reasons than they are doing something wrong. It is in the nature of the job they are moved from parish to parish.

"There is no evidence that I know of that has shown that we knew a complaint had been made about a man in this area of child abuse and that we knowingly moved him on to another parish. There is no evidence of that as far as I know."

Baroness Young, who has led the campaign in the House of Lords to resist the liberalising of laws on homosexuals, is planning a new amendment to include the clergy in the scope of the Government's Sexual Offences Bill. A Home Office spokesman said last night: "It's an area of great concern. The Government is definitely looking at the amendment."

The Sexual Offences Bill, which will reduce the age of gay consent to 16, was blocked in the Lords in 1998. It was reintroduced but, in a move to reassure Labour MPs, who demanded more protection for the young, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, included a new offence of the abuse of a position of trust.