William Hofton: Bishop hears protests during visit to parish

 Frank views were expressed last night when representatives from Westminster Diocese paid a pastoral visit to the north London parish where a priest served for two years before being jailed for child abuse last month.

Around 40 parishioners from Our Lady Help of Christians church in Kentish Town attended the meeting with Bishop Bernard Longley, Jim Richards, chair of the Catholic Children's Society and member of the Child Protection Team and Sally Chisholm, Westminster's recently- appointed child protection support liaison worker.

Opening the gathering, Bishop Bernard said the principal reason for the visit was "an expression of concern, and to listen and improve the way in which we deal with these issues as a diocese." William Hofton had been a parish priest elsewhere in the diocese.

When, in 2002, he confessed to sexually assaulting a 17 year-old boy 16 years earlier, he was removed and sent to the Wolvercote clinic for a month's assessment. They decided he was "low risk" and he was sent to work in Kentish Town. In his new parish he was under 'strict supervision' and not allowed to work with children. But the only person in Kentish Town who knew this was the parish priest. Hofton was jailed on August 31 after two more victims came forward who had been assaulted by him in their early teens. He was jailed for four years for these offences.

Mrs Anne Wixted, retired headteacher of the local primary school, and the parish Child Protection Officer, said she felt "betrayed" because she had not been told of Hofton's past until his arrest last December. She said: "I am concerned that you would send a self-confessed sex offender to our parish. It was extremely unfair to us and unfair to our new parish priest as well." Dr Cheryl Woodcroft said she felt the laity should be involved in the placement of priests in parishes in future. Several parents expressed shock that Hofton had played the organ at their children's baptisms. David Betts said: "We will never be able to forget that now." A number of parishioners asked why the diocese had not learnt from the experience of Michael Hill, a priest arrested at Gatwick airport for similar crimes in 2002.

Jim Richards said that that case had been different as it had happened before the current child protection rules were in place. Also, he said, Hill had been put in charge, whereas Hofton was an assistant priest under supervision.

A psychotherapist at the meeting expressed doubts about the effectiveness of Hofton's four-week stay at the Wolvercote clinic saying their diagnosis of him was "obviously dubious."

Clarence MacDonald asked what resources the parish had been given to deal with Hofton's special circumstances and who was responsible for sending him. 

Several people asked what the role of the Parish Child Protection Officer was. There was applause as one person said: " We want a priest who is "no risk" not "low risk". In response Bishop Bernard said the American Bishops had now agreed on a 'one strike and you're out policy' and the Church here was considering that.

Fr Dominic McKenna, Dean of Camden commented: "It just takes one determined liar to break up whatever system you have in place. William Hofton was such a person."

Before prayers at the end of the meeting, Bishop Bernard summed up by assuring parishioners that all existing COPCA guidelines had been followed in this case but there was much more to learn.

Bishop Bernard said he would report to the Archbishop's Council, and Jim Richards would report to the Child Protection Committee before returning to Kentish Town as soon as possible. He said: "You need and deserve a response."

Share this story