Church kept quiet about child abuse claims for over 40 years
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St Williams School, Market Weighton. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
St Williams School, Market Weighton. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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ALLEGATIONS of child sexual abuse against a man who became a Catholic priest were known about within the church for more than 40 years but at no point was the information passed to the police.

From the time Brother Ambrose O’Brien was sacked for abusing boys at a Catholic-run children’s home in east Yorkshire in 1965 to the last decade when further allegations emerged following his ordination as Father Joseph O’Brien, everything was kept ‘in-house’.

Father O’Brien died in 2010 without the police ever investigating his activities at the St William’s home or the more recent allegations which emerged from 2000 onwards.

Despite two major inquiries by Humberside Police into St William’s, which most notably resulted in jail terms totalling 21 years for the home’s former principal James Carragher, no-one within the church flagged up the information held on Father O’Brien.

The absence of action over more than 40 years appals campaigners against clergy abuse but that anger has been sharpened by the findings of an internal review which effectively clears the church of any wrongdoing.

They are particularly frustrated that clear recommendations brought in more than ten years ago following Lord Nolan’s inquiry into abuse within the Catholic church – including the requirement to contact police about allegations and clearly record them – appear not to have been followed.

Neither recommendation took place in Father O’Brien’s case yet a review carried out by the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) – which was set up to bolster the church’s response to child abuse in the wake of a series of scandals – concluded the Middlesbrough Diocese “acted proportionately and appropriately” to what it termed “historical rumours and hearsay allegations”.

It is unclear how the dismissal from St William’s could translate to either rumour or hearsay. The home, which was run by the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic lay order, reported Brother Ambrose’s dismissal to the Middlesbrough Diocese, which had overall responsibility for St William’s. The record has been held by the diocese since 1965.

His abrupt removal from the home was witnessed by Noel Hartnett, who gave evidence to CSAS. Shortly after the dismissal, three boys disclosed details of their abuse to Mr Hartnett who at that time was a De La Salle Brother but has since left the church.

However, the CSAS executive summary claims – with no reference as to why – that Brother Ambrose wasn’t given a reason for being suddenly dismissed.

It does refer to the director of St Williams stating that Brother Ambrose “might possibly have been imprudent in his relations with the boys” in a report about his dismissal to the home’s management, which was overseen by the Middlesbrough Diocese.

The summary says it is “a matter of speculation” whether the late Bishop McLean knew of the dismissal when his Middlesbrough Diocese accepted Brother Ambrose for training to the priesthood in 1972.

The De La Salle Brotherhood did not inform the diocese when providing a reference. De La Salle has previously told the Yorkshire Post it does not know why the dismissal was missing from the reference but pointed out that the diocese held a record in any case.

Although CSAS has responsibility for child protection in Catholic lay orders like the De La Salle Brotherhood, as well as individual dioceses, the summary makes no reference to any attempt to find out why the dismissal was missing from the reference.

It says: “By the time Joseph O’Brien expressed a desire to train as a priest in 1972, it is unclear whether Middlesbrough was in a position to know about allegations in his background as early as 1965. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that the same personnel were involved some seven years later.

“Documents show that by 1972, different people were involved and no evidence of communication with incoming personnel about the removal of Brother Ambrose has been found.”

But barrister Anne Lawrence, from Ministry And Clergy Sexual Abuse Surivors, said: “This Review once again highlights how language is used to dismiss and diminish the evidence of victims by referring to allegations as mere rumours and suggestions. It seeks to minimise what happened and leaves so many questions unanswered.

“The review also highlights that the church is nowhere on acknowledging the need to ensure justice is done and the truth is known.”

The Middlesbrough Diocese has refused to comment and Adrian Child, director of CSAS, said he was not in a position to answer questions from the Yorkshire Post.

Mr Child did say he was satisfied current practice is consistent with national procedures.