Archbishop faces new scandal after accused priest worked with children

By Kim Sengupta
Tuesday 17 December 2002 01:00

The Roman Catholic Church admitted yesterday that it bought a house opposite a primary school for a priest despite knowing he was a suspected paedophile.

Before living in the property, Father Christopher Maxwell-Stewart had been placed at a convent where the nuns ran a nursery. It is claimed that he was also permitted to instruct children at a church where he regularly conducted Mass.

Last night Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, was accused of making misleading statements that Fr Maxwell-Stewart was kept away from children.

Earlier this month he told Jeremy Paxman during an interview on BBC's Newsnight: "The priest had been assessed very thoroughly and had been put, not in a parish situation, had been put in a situation where in fact he was away from children. And people knew, the authorities, of what his past was.''

However, the two priests responsible for the churches where Fr Maxwell-Stuart continued to say Mass told Newsnight they were not informed about his past. A case against the priest collapsed in 1995 when his alleged victim, a nine-year-old girl, could not give evidence for medical reasons.

In a briefing yesterday, the Cardinal defended himself against allegations concerning 10 cases of alleged abuse by priests in his former diocese.

He said he had obtained files relating to the alleged abuse and passed them to solicitors for assessment. He added that the independent assessment had proved that the "correct procedures were followed".

The Archbishop said the files concerning allegations, which date back to the 1990s, about priests under his care when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, will now be passed to the Catholic Office for Protection for Children and Vulnerable Adults. He added that his priority was to "focus on victim support."

Pressure has been growing on Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, following a series of scandals, but the Archbishop said he had never considered resigning because "I don't think I have done anything wrong ... I think the Catholic Church in this country wants me to continue."

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