Abuse Allegations Cause Trouble For UK Bishop

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:12pm EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - The head of the Catholic Church in England was facing allegations Tuesday that he failed to fully investigate allegations of pedophilia while leading a diocese.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of England and Wales, is in the midst of a scandal over claims by victims that he helped to cover up child abuse by a convicted priest, Rev. Michael Hill.

On Monday, Hill pled guilty to a series of indecent assaults on boys aged between 10 and 14. He will be sentenced in London on Thursday.

Hill was first convicted and jailed in 1997 for a string of sex attacks against boys. He was paroled in 2000 but was put back on trial when more attacks came to light.

The assaults happened over a nearly 20-year period dating as far back as the late 60s.

Concerns about Hill were first raised in the early 80s, but instead of receiving disciplinary action, the priest was moved around within Murphy-O'Connor's southern England diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

Despite mounting suspicions against him, Hill was made chaplain at Gatwick Airport outside of London in 1985. One of the charges against Hill involved a boy who missed his flight and sought refuge in the airport chapel.

The BBC reported Tuesday that Murphy-O'Connor knew of similar allegations against eight other priests in his former diocese.

The BBC said that one priest, Rev. Alan Love, was suspected of indecently assaulting two boys while he was a priest in Glasgow, Scotland and was later moved to Murphy-O'Connor's parish.

Church officials released documents Tuesday that indicated that the BBC allegations were not entirely new. The documents, dating from more than two years ago, acknowledged that a complaint against Rev. Love was filed with police in 1983 and said that local Catholic officials cooperated with the investigation. No charges were filed against Love, who resigned from the priesthood in 1996.

A church spokesman also denied the allegations against Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor in the Hill case. Archbishop Peter Smith noted Murphy-O'Connor had apologized for his handling of the situation shortly after he was appointed archbishop in 2000.

"What I understood then, what many others understood then, about [pedophilia] is very different from now," the cardinal said at the time. "I maintain that with the facts known to me, the decisions made at the time in his regard were not irresponsible."

Smith said Tuesday that the church's "knowledge and understanding" of pedophilia had changed since the allegations of abuse first surfaced against Hill in the 80s.

"It is all very easy to look back after all the facts have come out and say, well, it should have been dealt differently with then," Smith said.

He rejected suggestions from some of Hill's victims that Murphy-O'Connor should resign.

"He has shown tremendous leadership not only to the church in England and Wales, but to the church universally ... we want to be clear to people we have no intention of covering things up, we want this out in the open," Smith said.

Last week, American Catholic bishops approved a new set of guidelines for how to handle priests suspected of abusing children. The guidelines were formulated after a wave of sex abuse scandals in the United States and worldwide.

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