Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, is
likely to be investigated by police over 12 new allegations that he
failed to report claims of child abuse during his time as bishop of
Arundel and Brighton. In one case, the abuse of an 11-year-old girl
continued for a significant period.
Police are already investigating whether the cardinal turned a
blind eye to the activities of priest Michael Hill, recently jailed
for a second time. After his actions were reported, Hill was
allowed to remain in post and abused again. On Radio Four’s
Today programme, a supporter of the cardinal explained his
inertia by saying that it was only recently that the church had
become aware that paedophilia was what he termed, “an obsessive,
Now that the alleged ignorance of the church both here and in the
US, where several cardinals and archbishops are implicated, is
presumably being rectified, the real dilemma must be addressed. Who
matters most, priest or victim?
In the US, there appears no conflict of interest. In the summer,
senior clergy shamefully agreed that they would report a priest to
the authorities but only after he had become a persistent offender.
The Pope criticised this policy on the grounds that it offered
insufficient protection not for children but for the
Here, the Nolan Report recommended zero tolerance. However, the
Catholic church believes that if, after confession, there is
contrition and a firm purpose of amendment, forgiveness and
reconciliation must follow. It is the way in which this belief is
applied to systems that should be designed to protect children that
will continue to put children at risk.
In recent years, the tracking and control of convicted paedophiles
has been intense and constant. Faith in an individual’s resolve is
no substitute for this constant professional – not clerical –
vigilance. At the same time, those in power who fail to pass on
allegations to the police for proper investigation should be
Furthermore, the Catholic church has to face the fact that it is
not celibacy that leads some men of the cloth to abuse the young.
Just as in the other caring professions, paedophiles may be drawn
to the priesthood, not merely – if at all – by the love of God but
primarily because of access to the young.
If Cardinal Murphy O’Connor is unable to acknowledge that simple
truth, then pity the children.