Abuse survivors’ ‘utter dismay’ at report’s findings into bishop’s resignation

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An official report into the resignation of a Roman Catholic bishop who ignored warnings to stop associating with a paedophile has been met with “utter dismay” by abuse survivors.

Bishop Robert Byrne stepped down from the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in December, stating his role had “become too great a burden to bear”.

An official investigation by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon was ordered and it has found Bishop Byrne, 66, made a series of “errors of judgment”.

They included his continued association with friar Father Timothy Gardner, a frequent visitor to his house, despite warnings from senior priests that Gardner was a convicted paedophile.

Bishop Byrne also appointed Canon Michael McCoy to be dean of the cathedral despite safeguarding issues about his contact with older teens.

Canon McCoy killed himself in 2021, days after police told him they were investigating an allegation of historic sex abuse.

Archbishop McMahon’s report also called Canon McCoy’s appointment an error of judgment.

It also found that when the bishop moved from an historic home in Newcastle’s West End to the leafy suburb of Gosforth, which was criticised by some in the diocese, he could have moved somewhere cheaper and less “conspicuous”.

Catholic Survivors, an informal network formed by survivors of Church-related abuse, said its response to the report was “one of utter dismay”.

They said: “For the Archbishop of Liverpool to refer to Bishop Bryne’s association with a paedophile, and the promotion of another priest around whom there were safeguarding concerns simply as ‘errors of judgment’ beggars belief.

“It suggests that those in leadership in the Church still do not grasp the seriousness of the Church’s persistent failure to deal effectively with its safeguarding failures and no lessons have been learnt.”

The head of abuse law at Slater Gordon said: “The weasel words in this report prove the need for external oversight of church safeguarding; the Catholic Church clearly cannot police itself.”

Regarding the allegations of “lewd parties” during lockdown, the report stated that the police were informed after volunteers who had sanitised the cathedral were invited into the cathedral house for “refreshments”, in breach of regulations at the time.

It added: “On occasion, after long days, the volunteers were offered a take-away meal and a glass of wine.

“At the time, Covid regulations were in force and a report was made to Northumbria Police but no action was taken.”

Regarding Canon McCoy’s “sad death by suicide”, the report said he had twice been the subject of “safeguarding plans regarding boundaries relevant to working with older teenagers”.

The report said Bishop Byrne had been informed by “more than one source” of safeguarding issues surrounding Canon McCoy before he was appointed to work at the cathedral.

“It was an error of judgment to then promote a priest with a safeguarding record to a high-profile position,” the report added.

“Instead, Bishop Byrne could have paid greater heed to ensuring that Michael McCoy was appropriately managed, given the safeguarding concerns which had been raised.”

“They were seen associating together in public in Newcastle and it was known that Gardner was a frequent visitor at Bishop’s House,” the report’s executive summary, published on the diocese website, said.

“Despite being advised by senior priests in the diocese that this was an inappropriate relationship, Bishop Byrne insisted that it was a pastoral relationship and therefore appropriate and refused their advice.

“Bishop Byrne failed to understand the risks he was taking both for himself and the diocese.”

Archbishop McMahon concluded: “I emphasise that it was a succession of errors of judgment by Bishop Byrne that exacerbated the key issues above.

“In my view, he himself was unable to see a path forward, and his failure to see his part in these situations made clear his inability to cope with the demands of his role.”

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