Monday, 13 June 2011

Church plagued by allegations of child abuse

THE Roman Catholic Church has been bedevilled by allegations of child abuse in recent years and accusations it had failed to grasp the seriousness of the problem within its ranks.
After the scale of abuse in Ireland became clear with the publication of damning inquiry results in 2009, the leader of the church in England and Wales said those who perpetrated abuse should be held to account “no matter how long ago it happened”.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “Every time there is a single incident of abuse in the Catholic Church, it is a scandal...I hope these things don’t happen again, but I hope they’re never a matter of indifference.”
Brother Ambrose O’Brien was sacked for abusing boys at the St William’s home, in Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, in 1965 but it appears it was there and then that accountability ended. Whether what happened afterwards was down to incompetence, indifference or worse will, probably, never be fully known.
That the police were not involved then is, perhaps, not surprising given different social attitudes towards abuse 40 or more years ago.
But that Ambrose O’Brien went on to become Father Joseph O’Brien, ordained by the same Middlesbrough Diocese which held the record of his dismissal, is, at the very least, surprising.
The dismissal of Brother Ambrose – the name he took at the time as a member of the De La Salle Brotherhood – was formally reported to the diocese, which had overall responsibility for the St William’s home through the Middlesbrough Diocesan Rescue Society.
But his application to the diocese to become a priest in 1972 was accepted, after De La Salle, the Catholic lay order which ran the home, failed to mention the dismissal when it was asked for a reference.
Consequently, Brother Ambrose O’Brien emerged as Father Joseph O’Brien in 1975, and went on to serve in Middlesbrough and then, through the 1980s and 1990s, in North Yorkshire.
Whether there were further allegations against him – or what they were – is unclear. In 2002 a former brother who worked at the home, Noel Hartnett, told Humberside Police, who were investigating wider abuse allegations at St William’s, that he had been approached by another priest who was compiling a dossier on Father O’Brien because there were further allegations of abuse. He also told detectives about Father O’Brien’s dismissal, which he had witnessed at first hand.
If Humberside Police had interviewed Father O’Brien in 2002, the full picture may have emerged then. Whether the diocese would have acted is not known, though by this point Father O’Brien had retired four years earlier in 1998. In the event, Father O’Brien was not interviewed and his history remained below the radar.
However, Father O’Brien’s history would have been difficult to ignore when his dismissal formed part of the evidence in an ongoing compensation case by former residents of St William’s over alleged wide-scale sexual and physical abuse at the home.
The report on the dismissal – disclosed by the diocese during the proceedings – was cited by Judge Hawkesworth QC in his High Court judgment in November 2009 that the diocese, rather than De La Salle, should be held responsible for the home.
Two months later, Father O’Brien died in his home city of Hull aged 87.
His dismissal for child abuse was not mentioned by the diocese when it publicly recorded his passing and gave details of his funeral Mass. It has never publicly acknowledged his history until now.
The Yorkshire Post approached Archbishop Nichols for his views on the story of Father O’Brien. He declined to comment.

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