Catholic Church in Britain pays hush money to sex abuse victims
SNAP Survivors 2002
THE Roman Catholic Church has secretly paid thousands of pounds in “hush money” to dozens of Britons who were sexually abused by priests. The disclosure will come as a further embarrassment to the Catholic Church in England and Wales and to its spiritual leader, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to paedophile priests when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.
One of them, Father Michael Hill, was jailed in 1997 for a string of sex offences and will be sentenced tomorrow after admitting further charges of indecent assault on three boys. Several of the compensation payments — which were made on condition that the victims did not talk about them — went to people abused by Hill and Cardinal Murphy- O’Connor is said to have been aware of them.
The police are already investigating claims that the Cardinal covered up Hill’s activities and he is now under pressure to resign over allegations that he failed to stop up to eight other paedophile priests in his former diocese.
Inquiries by The Times have also established that the police are also investigating sex abuse allegations against priests in Birmingham, Salford and Northampton.
Most of the compensation payments have gone to victims of convicted priests, but some have been made in cases where there has been no conviction. The Church has not admitted any liability and the compensation has been financed by insurers. Most, if not all, of the cases were settled out of court.
The victims understood that by accepting compensation they were prevented from talking about the deal. However, the Church said it merely precluded them from talking about the sums involved.
Margaret Kennedy, founder of the victim support group Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, accused the Church of buying off victims and instituting a cover-up by applying “gagging orders” to their compensation payments. She said: “The Church is trying to buy the silence of the survivors with hush money.”
Richard Scorer, of the Manchester solicitors Pannone and Partners, has won settlements for a number of claimants and has another 30 cases on his books. He said: “Abuse cases do not generally attract high awards. If a child is a victim of buggery he might receive tens of thousands. If a child has been indecently assaulted by a priest putting his hands down his trousers once or twice, he might get less than £5,000.”
The payments are a fraction of what victims can expect in America, where the Boston Archdiocese is to pay $10 million to 86 victims of one defrocked priest. Mr Scorer said: “In this country we are looking at much, much less money. The main difference is that there, the awards are mainly by juries and they get basic awards and also punitive damages.”
The compensation claims began about four years ago when Mr Scorer was approached by victims of paedophile priests after Sir Ronald Waterhouse reported on child sex abuse in care homes in North Wales.
Mr Scorer said that most claims concerned priests abusing altar boys in the presbytery. “The local priest befriends the son of a devout Catholic family. The lad is encouraged to become an altar boy and is then alone a lot with the priest who then gets an opportunity for abuse.”
A spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor sought to distance the Church from the payouts, which, he said, were processed by lawyers. “People instruct solicitors to act on their behalf to seek compensation. If such an instruction is received from a solicitor by the insurers of a diocese that case is looked at. If it is regarded as reasonable then compensation is paid. It is done between solicitor and solicitor. It does not go near the Church.”
But he added: “The Cardinal would have been aware of any claims that were made when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.”
The Church also rejected calls for the Cardinal’s resignation in the light of further allegations of paedophilia in his former diocese. The Archbishop of Cardiff, the Most Rev Peter Smith, said that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor had acknowledged his regret about Hill’s activities and set up an independent inquiry that modernised church procedures.
New allegations uncovered by a BBC investigation point to indecent behaviour by eight other priests in the diocese, three of whom continued in their pastoral duties in spite of the allegations. None is believed still to be working in the area. Victims reported the abuse to the police and senior clergy. One police investigation was dropped when the alleged victim was deemed too vulnerable to give evidence.
A little worrying to have attractive 6 year twins going to Church (sometimes). Maybe they have sorted themselves out by now?