Westminster learns lessons from Hofton case

 A statement signed by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the four auxiliary bishops of Westminster was made available last weekend to the members of the parish of Our Lady Help of Christians, Kentish Town in north London.

The statement follows a review of the Diocese's handling of the case of William Hofton, who was convicted of paedophile offences in 2004. The text of the statement follows.

Statement to parishioners of Kentish Town: William Hofton, weekend of 18/19 June 2005

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is determined to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse of any kind. In Westminster, we constantly study the 2001 Nolan procedures on child protection to consider how better to implement them. Each case has its lessons, and we are determined to learn them.

We have been particularly anxious to learn lessons from the case of William Hofton, a priest who was returned to supervised parish ministry in August 2002 after admitting to his superiors that he had had an improper encounter with a seventeen-year-old male in 1986. Following the admission the police were informed, as the Nolan guidelines require. But no prosecution resulted. Hofton was assessed by an independent panel and monitored by the Diocese's child protection team, which together concluded that Hofton could return to ministry, although in a restricted manner and under supervision. In 2004, however, he was convicted of offences of a paedophile nature, not previously known to the Diocese, which he had committed between August 1991 and December 1993. He was jailed for these offences in September 2004.

The question we have considered is: was it right to have returned William Hofton to ministry in a parish, following the advice of the assessment panel? We are clear that if the Diocese were again faced with a case such as Hofton's, it would not return the priest to parish ministry. Should this be a nationwide policy? The Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults has advised us that it would not assist the protection of children to introduce a blanket policy in cases such as these.

But COPCA believes that the implications of this and other cases should be considered during the independent review of the Nolan Report, which is envisaged next year. The principle that the interests of children and of vulnerable adults are paramount will continue to be strictly applied. When an allegation of improper activity is made against any priest or church worker, the police will be informed at once; and on the advice of the Child Protection Commission, he or she will be placed on administrative leave. Since the Hofton case, the Child Protection Commission in the Diocese has been strengthened with more child protection experts. We again want to express our regret at the hurt caused to the parish where William Hofton exercised his supervised ministry.

We hope that the steps we have taken show we are determined to maintain and improve upon the highest standards of protection rightly expected of the Catholic Church. We believe that the appropriate lessons have been learned from this case in our Diocese, and trust that they also have implications for the Church's child protection policy as a whole.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Bishop James O'Brien
Bishop George Stack
Bishop Alan Hopes
Bishop Bernard Longley

Source: Archbishops House

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