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British Cardinal contests fresh abuse claims

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, has defended himself against new allegations of mishandling the treatment of a priest accused of child abuse in his former diocese.

During an animated press conference, the cardinal repeatedly claimed he had behaved correctly. He was fielding assertive questions from BBC reporters who have led accusations against him of allegedly covering up abuse by priests when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.

Appearing occasionally flustered, the cardinal insisted he wanted to respond to inaccurate reports. He refused to draw parallels with Cardinal Bernard Law of the US archdiocese of Boston, forced to stand down on Friday for covering up a series of cases of sexual and other abuses by priests.

"I have never thought I should resign, because I did not think I did anything wrong," he insisted. "There has been no pressure from my fellow bishops and priests and the Catholic people of this country want me to stay."

The cardinal was stung into a public response following new allegations about the handling of the case of Fr Christopher Maxwell-Stewart, accused seven years ago of abusing a young girl in his parish in Leatherhead, Surrey.

Although the police decided not to prosecute because of uncertainties about the witnesses, he was sent to a rehabilitation clinic in the US and, on return, sent to a convent outside the diocese, where he was only permitted to minister to retired nuns.

The diocese bought him a house near the convent and a local school and recently discovered that, contrary to instructions, he had said mass on a regular basis at local churches.

The latest allegations follow the cardinal's admission that he made mistakes in moving another priest, Michael Hill, to a new post as chaplain at Gatwick airport after complaints about his behaviour in a parish in the mid-1980s. Hill was convicted of child abuse for a second time two weeks ago and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

Ireland's most senior Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Desmond Connell, was meanwhile under renewed pressure yesterday when a Northern Irish priest called on him to resign.

Cardinal Connell, Archbishop of Dublin, faced criticism when he admitted earlier this year he had made mistakes dealing with complaints about sexual abuse by priests.

On Monday, in an impassioned letter to a Belfast daily paper, the Irish News, Fr Patrick McCafferty, from Lisburn, Co Antrim, accused church leaders of "breathtaking indifference" to the anguish of the abused.

The Guardian

Cardinal rejects call to quit over sex abuse priests (Telegraph)

Irish cardinal told to resign like Law (Gulf Daily News)
Clerical Sex Abuse Debate Heats Up in Ireland (Reuters)

Special school 'father' on abuse charges (ABC)

Bishop Gregory hails OK of abuse norms as sign of Vatican commitment (Catholic News Service)
Poll: View of Catholic Church Dropping (AP)
Boston's Cardinal Law to Spend Time in Monastery (Reuters)
Maryland Man Acquitted In Assault On Priest (Washington Post)

18 Dec 2002