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Transcript of Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman

posted on 05 December 2002
JEREMY PAXMAN:
Cardinal, do you accept that you have not treated the child abuse scandal in your church as seriously as you should have done.

CARDINAL CORMAC MURPHY-O'CONNOR:
In the past yes. If you mean by allegations of child abuse, I don't think they were treated as seriously as they could have been. They were treated, I think in the present situation, but we're in a different situation, we're at a different time. We now have the Nolan recommendations which are being implemented all over the country, and they are very important. They mean that in every diocese there's a child protection team. In every parish there's a child protection person, and indeed, in the country as a whole, there's a national group that monitors everything that's happened in a diocese in terms of child protection.

PAXMAN:
But don't these latest cases demonstrate that the case of Fr Michael Hill, the most notorious case, was by no means a one off? It fitted a pattern.

CARDINAL:
I don't agree. I think that the case of Michael Hill in one sense was a one-off, and I can assert that in my former diocese that I always treated allegations of child abuse with the greatest care and the greatest attention, and did not ignore it.

PAXMAN:
But in one of these cases, in 1998, these new cases, in 1998 the priest was judged to be a danger to children. He was removed from parish work, and yet was allowed to continue working as, effectively a supply priest.

CARDINAL:
I think that the case that you mention, and I won't want to go in to details, that priest had been assessed very thoroughly and had been put, not in a parish situation, had been put in a situation where in fact he was away from children and people knew, the people - authorities - of what his past was.

PAXMAN:
But he was allowed to continue working as a supply priest where he could come in to contact with children.

CARDINAL:
There is now a contract with that priest and he is going to be working very privately and I think that the point is that the conditions for that priest in terms of child protection have been…

PAXMAN:
But according to the diocese, he may not have been abiding by that contract.

CARDINAL:
In that case, according to the Nolan recommendations, that case must be reviewed.

PAXMAN:
If you take this other new case, is it not clear that even the guide-lines laid down as a consequence of the Nolan recommendations, even those haven't been followed?

CARDINAL:
I don't think that's true. There has been a recent case which in fact, the guidelines regarding a case in this diocese, guidelines of Nolan have been thoroughly implemented, and it's interesting that Lord Nolan himself, who was asked about this question, said they had been.

PAXMAN:
April last year, you were contacted by a woman who e-mails you details, specific details about a former priest of yours. You reply to her by e-mail, and you do not say, Go to the police, which is what the recommendation is nowadays. You say to her, 'I am sure it will be wise to talk your knowledge through with some wise person, either priest or lay person'. At no point in that letter do you say, Go to the police or the social services.

CARDINAL:
I remember that case clearly. I wrote that, yes, back to the woman, but what she didn't know is that I sent the correspondence straight to our Child Protection Team and waited because I remember I had no phone call, and no phone number for her, and then when eventually she did contact me again, I was, as I said, extremely shocked by what she said and I got immediately in touch with the Sussex police and we've been in constant contact with the Sussex police who, as a result of our referral, of this case have re-opened it, and are dealing with it. In fact I understand the woman hasn't been, won't go to see them. But the fact is, did I do what was right? The answer is yes. Did I take it seriously? Yes. Did I follow through the Nolan recommendations? Yes.

PAXMAN:
Why didn't you tell her straight away to go to the police.

CARDINAL:
Because I was waiting for her to come and see me because I'd written back saying, 'please come and see me'. I wanted to know the extent of the abuse but I did take immediate action. And that action was to go to our Child Protection Team, and eventually, when she did contact me again, she never came to see me, I put the whole correspondence in the hands of the Sussex police.

PAXMAN:
It has been said by some members of your church that many of these offences were committed in the 1980's, and that some how there was less understanding in the 1980's of the whole problem of child abuse. But surely, if it's wrong now, it was wrong then.

CARDINAL:
Oh surely, it's certainly wrong, wrong now, it was wrong then. Child abuse is a terrible thing. And I think before I go any further, what for me is the most important thing, not just about this interview but about the whole question, is the hurt, and distress and pain of those who've been abused. For me, that's at the heart of what we're talking about now.

PAXMAN:
Because there is a great anxiety that in the way that the church has dealt with this, it has shown itself more preoccupied with preserving or rescuing its good name than with compassion for the victims for the abuse.

CARDINAL:
I think that we've been on what I call a curving line in this whole question. I think I would agree that we haven't had in the past sufficient compassion for those who've been abused. And I suppose one of the reasons why I have been forthcoming very much over the last fortnight in terms of media is precisely because I feel that I don't want to come across answering defensively, accusations or allegations, whatever, against me, because I feel that wouldn't be helpful and wouldn't help me to reflect on this far more important question of the hurt and the darkness of so many of those who've been abused.

PAXMAN:
What do you feel was your mistake in those cases, which you knew about?

CARDINAL:
Well I have to say that in most cases I dealt with in my former diocese, I dealt with correctly. I never took an allegation of child abuse, without - if you say did I in one or two cases make mistakes, yes I did because in fact the guidelines weren't there. And the kind of recommendations that now come up in Nolan weren't in place. So, to that extent, yes, I think I was perhaps naive, perhaps ignorant. But I always took the allegations seriously because after all I'm a priest and a bishop. Of course I care for priests, but I care for children. I care for children very much.

PAXMAN:
But in the case of Father Michael Hill, you allowed him to continue practising as a priest at Gatwick Airport, where he came in to contact with children, and continued to abuse them, for how long?

CARDINAL:
With Michael Hill, I took him out of a parish after allegations made against him, sent him for therapy, and then eventually when he came back, there had been expert advice, and one part of that advice was that he might be appointed to an industrial chaplaincy where there would be no danger, for him with children. Gatwick Airport, as a chaplaincy was vacant, and I appointed him there and it was a great mistake. And I've apologised once, and I apologise again.

PAXMAN:
But he continued there for several years after your own church had issued guide lines on the treatment of child abuse cases. I mean those were 1994, he was still there in 1996.

CARDINAL:
I didn't know at that time any specific case, any crime that he'd actually committed, but I'm not going to excuse anything with regard to myself or Michael Hill. I think I made a grave mistake appointing him to Gatwick Airport, and I make no excuse for it.

PAXMAN:
How many priests do you have concerns about in your former diocese or pres
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 05 December 2002

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