After Hofton - Bishops to review child protection procedures

 The following statement was made available to all adult parishioners during the visit of Bishop Bernard Longley to the parish of Our Lady Help of Christians, Kentish Town, north London, over the weekend.

Interim Statement to the Parishioners of Kentish Town: William Hofton We would like to thank you for your prayers and understanding following the conviction of William Hofton for crimes against children.

At the meeting we held a few weeks ago many of you were angry and distressed to think that such a priest could serve in the Diocese. If any of us had known in 2002 that William Hofton was guilty of the offences for which he was convicted, he would not have been returned to ministry. Previously, in 2002, William Hofton has admitted to an illegal act in the 1980s. We notified the police but the victim/survivor did not wish to pursue the matter, William Hofton returned to parish duty, following his admission to that incident in the 1980s, only after a professional assessment and believing, in line with the recommendations of the Nolan report, that it would be safe for him to work under supervision.

In the light of what was subsequently revealed, it was not right for him to have been sent back to a parish. That is why we are now looking at what changes need to be made, also taking on board your comments, concerns and criticisms. We did not know of any other offences and, as far as we know, thankfully, William Hofton did not commit any offences during his time in Kentish Town. The offences with which he was charged last year all dated from the 1990s and only came to light last year, at which point William Hofton was arrested, and his ministry came to an end. Anything we decide to do in this Diocese will have implications for other dioceses. The Cardinal therefore wants to discuss these issues with the other bishops of England and Wales.

These are the issues we are looking at: (i) How is a risk assessment to be viewed and what other matters, apart from the risk assessment report, should be taken into account by the Child Protection Commission in judging whether a priest should be returned to any kind of parish ministry? (ii) Are there any circumstances in which it is is safe to send a priest back to public ministry where that priest has admitted an offence in the past? (iii) In the light of (ii) is there a place for a 'supervised' ministry and, if so, how much of the burden of supervision should be placed on the Child Protection Representative and others in the parish?

These issues will be discussed thoroughly, not only with our own Child Protection team but with other professional advisers, with COPCA, and with the other bishops, to see what changes are to be made. Our first concern will continue to be the safety and well-being of children and vulnerable adults.

It is right that we should have charitable and pastoral concerns for all our priests. But that cannot and must not stand in the way of rigourous assessment of their fitness for ministry. So we will learn the lessons from the Hofton case and we will share the results of our consultation with you. We hope to begin a new chapter where your trust, that has been damaged, may be restored.

HE Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
The Rt Rev James O'Brien
The Rt Rev George Stack
The Rt Rev Alan Hopes
The Rt Rev Bernard Longley

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