Church admits mistakes in priest sex abuse case
The Catholic Church has admitted it should have taken “more robust action” against a former Norwich priest jailed for sexually abusing a vulnerable teenage boy at a children’s home almost 40 years ago.
Anthony McSweeney was jailed for three years in 2015, after he was found guilty of indecently assaulting the youngster while working at Grafton Close Children’s Home in Hounslow, West London, between 1979 and 1981.
Concerns were raised in 1998, when his cleaner discovered pornographic videos at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
But instead of being reported to the police, he was quietly moved to a new parish, St George’s, in Norwich, where he led the Sprowston Road church’s congregation.
Now, the safeguarding commissions of the dioceses of East Anglia and Brentwood have accepted the recommendations made in an independent review following McSweeney’s conviction, and that “there were failings in the way in which the Church managed the situation at the time”.
In a statement issued by the two dioceses, it said: “The Church should have taken more robust action following the discovery of video tapes in 1998, later referred to in Anthony McSweeney’s trial, and should have ensured that the matter was reported to the police so that a full investigation could have taken place.”
It also accepted “local priests and parishioners were not adequately supported, their concerns were not taken sufficiently seriously, nor acted upon diligently” and “Anthony McSweeney’s subsequent transfer to East Anglia [...] was poorly managed, lacked insight and was not adequately documented.”
The dioceses said national safeguarding procedures put in place in 2001 would mean a similar matter would now be passed straight to the police.
Now, if a priest asks to be transferred from one diocese to another, formal undertakings have to be given that the priest is of good standing before such a move can take place.
However, the statement added: “At the time of these events awareness of the need for child protection was in its infancy.”
The dioceses have also raised the following recommendations with both the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission:
• To review and clarify the existing policy about priests transferring from one diocese to another to ensure consistency and transparency in the process in all the dioceses in England and Wales, and in particular, to ensure that any issues to do with safeguarding are resolved before any such move can take place;
• To issue clear guidelines for managing cases potentially involving indecent images;
• To review the existing ‘whistleblowing’ policy.
The chairmen of the two safeguarding commissions, Denis White of East Anglia, and Linda Ransom of Brentwood, expressed their thanks to those who assisted the review.
They added they were committed to ensuring “very high standards of safeguarding practice within the dioceses, in particular for children and vulnerable adults, but also for the benefit of the whole Church”.
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Pictured above is St George’s in Norwich where Anthony McSweeney was a priest. Picture courtesy of www.norfolkchurches.co.uk