November 19, 2002
Archbishop faces police probe

By Paul Cheston in London's Evening Standard

Britain's most senior Catholic is facing a police investigation after a priest today pleaded guilty to sexually attacking young boys over an 18-year period.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, is accused of being involved in a possible " coverup" of abuse by Michael Hill while Hill was a parish priest in Sussex in the Eighties. He has denied the allegations.

The Cardinal, when Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, had moved Hill from his parish after being warned in 1983 that the priest was abusing children. But he never reported Hill to the police and in 1985 allowed him to resume as a priest at Gatwick Airport - a magnet for homeless youngsters. It was there that Hill molested a boy who had wandered into the airport chapel.

Hill was jailed in 1997 for five years for nine sex attacks, including the boy at Gatwick, dating back to 1977. He was released in 2000 when the Church provided a rent-free £100,000 flat - three minutes walk from a primary school - on the grounds that it felt a moral responsibility.

Hill, 68, was rearrested and faced 14 counts of sexually assaulting children as young as 10 dating back to 1969.

Today he pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to six counts involving three children on occasions between 1969 and 1987. The remaining charges, which he denies, are expected to be left on the file. Judge Christopher Moss, QC, remanded Hill in custody until Thursday when he will be sentenced. He told him the result "was inevitable and the only question is the length of sentence".

Michelle Elliott, director of the child protection charity Kidscape, has led calls for the Cardinal's resignation. Last month Sussex police confirmed they were investigating the possible "cover-up" after a complaint by a member of the public.

The Cardinal claims he did not call police in to prosecute Hill in the Eighties because child abuse by priests was regarded at that time "as more a moral and pastoral problem than a police problem".

He said he had ordered Hill to undergo therapy at a home for problem priests in Stroud, and that after reports from the centre were inconclusive he had permitted him to return to a limited ministry.

However letters from the centre at the time had warned the Cardinal that "there is still a risk that Father Hill will act out again, in fact, no one could give any moral certainty that he would not, especially when he is reported to have said he believes the children enjoyed the experience with him. A high risk does pertain."

When Hill was given a release date from prison a police source said officers were "110 per cent certain" he would reoffend. The source said: "This man is far from being rehabilitated. He is a sick, sadistic and dangerous man who takes enormous pleasure in abusing children."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor has denied he was involved in a "cover-up" and says the decision was a responsible one given what he knew then. He has apologised to the victims, acknowledging that they had been hurt not just by abusers but also "by mistaken attitudes with the Church community at all levels".

Posted by paul at November 19, 2002 01:09 AM
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