Former cathedral dean jailed for sexually abusing trainee priest

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The former dean of Lancaster Cathedral, who abused his power and authority to indecently assault a trainee priest, has been jailed for 12 months.

Canon Stephen Shield, 53, took advantage of his victim, who was learning the priesthood at the time in the early 1990s.

Two assaults took place in Shield’s presbytery in Preston, Lancashire, with one taking place under the table at a dinner party where other priests were among guests.

Giving evidence, the victim said he was convinced that others present knew that Shield had put his hands down his trousers but kept quiet.

Shield committed an indecent assault in a bedroom at the presbytery on another occasion.

He was convicted of the charges last month and was also found guilty of another assault on the same man in the mid-1980s at a Catholic retreat in Cumbria when both were religious students.

Shield, of Balmoral Road, Lancaster, later went on to become the Dean of Lancaster.

He continues to maintain his innocence over the two presbytery assaults, Preston Crown Court heard.

A petition of support containing 240 signatures from former parishioners in Lancaster was also handed in which stated Shield was “an excellent priest” who has served them well.

While his counsel argued for a community service order so he could better fulfil the requirements of a sex offender programme, the Recorder of Preston, Judge Anthony Russell QC, said an immediate custodial sentence was needed despite his otherwise good character.

The judge told him: “It is clear that from his evidence that (the victim) felt unable to resist you because of your position as a priest and your authority over him.

“I am in no doubt that his experiences of those indecent assaults had had a profound effect upon him.

“It was an abuse of power and authority over someone who was vulnerable and unable to resist you, possibly because of the hierarchal situation in the Catholic church. I consider you targeted him.”

The court heard that Shield hugged and then attempted to kiss his victim in a bar at the seminary in Cumbria before asking him to show his penis.

The victim went on to take some time out from training in the priesthood, only resuming his vocation in his mid-20s when he was placed by chance in Shield’s parish, who had been since been ordained.

He felt unable to usurp the authority of Shield by speaking about the previous assault and the defendant took further advantage of the situation, the court was told.