Look at this for a mess!
I was trying to make sense of the first article of today: “Catholic Church criticised as allegations of abuse by suspended parish priest are revealed” so went hunting. The Northern Echo has a number of articles online since Father Higginbottom was first suspended in 2004. I posted a few, enough I hope to fill in some of the gaps and get a sense of what has been going on.
Father Higginbottom was suspended without explanation in December 2004.
According to a 30 June 2005 article, the diocese was conducting an investigation. The investigation was headed by a Father Dennis Tindall who was quoted as follows:
“The investigation is still ongoing at a slow pace. It has always been moving at a slow pace, but this is not due to a particular fault with the proceedings.
“As the investigation is continuing and we are working with the police, I can not discuss the details.
“Fr Higginbottom has been made clearly aware of some of the features of the investigation, but is not aware of them all at this stage.
“When we have completed our inquiries, we will release a statement explaining the outcome, as I am sure many people will wish to know how everything came about. However, I do not know when that will be.”
Two years later, according to a 12 December 2007 article ( “No charges, but priest still exiled”) :
“Police sources have confirmed that no allegations of a sexual or violent nature have ever been made and Fr Higginbottom has never been interviewed.”
“…investigations by police, social services and the Catholic church have found no case to answer.”
According to the article, parishioners are frustrated by the secrecy, and, according to one parishioner: “Bishop Dunn has said that the church is doing this to protect Fr Michael, but it can only be harming him …It is quite farcical.”
By February 2009 two of Father Higginbottom’s former pupils decided to start an online petition in support of Higginbottom. At least one of the former pupils said he had no interest in knowing about the allegations against Higginbottom “it’s not my business. My main raison d’etre is to give a good character reference to someone who committed his time to us, and who I believe was a thoroughly good, professional, caring and understanding man.”
In April 2009 the diocese has a new bishop, the Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham. Bishop Cunningham is quoted as follows:
“I cannot say why it has taken so long, but I have to protect Fr Michael’s good name.
“I have a responsibility to Fr Michael and the parish, but also to the people making the allegations. We have to be very careful to protect good names. I am very much aware of the respect in which he is held and some of the wonderful work that he has done as a priest.”
Parishioners are still supporting Father Higginbottom, and they’re still looking for answers.
For whatever reason it seems that there is a belief the allegations against Father Higginbottom are not of a sexual nature. The latter notion is reiterated by The Northern Echo in a December 2009 article:
“The Northern Echo understands that the allegations against Fr Higginbottom are not of a sexual or violent nature and relate to his time as a teacher at Upholland College, near Wigan, in the Seventies and Eighties. A police investigation concluded without further action.”
And, according to the latter article, Father Higginbottom maintains he has not done anything wrong. We also learn that the petition by former students garnered a mere 13 signatures.
And then it’s on to today’s article. Now we learn the following:
(1) In 2004 a former pupil of St. Joseph’s reported to someone that he was abused at the school by Ftaher Higginbottom and others, Father Higginbottom was removed from his parish. (St. Joseph’s College is located in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. The parish in which Father Higginbottom was serving when he was suspended is located in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle );
(2) In 2006 police receive an allegation of sexual abuse related to Father Higginbottom during his years at St. Joseph’s. No charges are laid;
(3) In 2008 the Archdiocese of Liverpool paid out £35,000 to a man who claimed he was sexually assaulted by Fr Higginbottom while the priest was teaching at St Joseph’s College in the late 1970s. ( It seems this many be the same man who approached police in 2006?);
(4) Father Higginbottom has denied knowledge of the allegations against him, and said the investigation is ongoing and that he couldn’t discuss the allegations “for legal reasons”;
(5) According to today’s article, in its Statement of Defence the Archdiocese of Liverpool “denied that the defendants were guilty of any negligence and denied the allegations of abuse” and ” says the claimant had ample opportunity to complain to other members of staff, such as his form master, the head teacher or to his parents when they visited” ;
(6) According to a police officer, the allegations had been investigated and charges were not laid;
(7) Despite word of the settlement parishioners still stand by Father Higginbottom. They want him back; as they see it, he has not been charged with any offence;
(8) The Archdiocese of Liverpool refuses to comment on the legal action or the allegations against Father Higginbottom;
(9) The Diocese of Hexam and Newcastle will not comment on how the allegations of sex abuse relate to Higginbottom’s suspension.
My first thoughts? Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.
Second? Did the police really not find sufficient evidence to lay charges?
Third? If the diocese had nothing concrete against him Father Higginbottom would have been back pastoring his flock years ago;
Fourth? Is the “investigation” really and truly still ongoing? or, is that just part of the ruse?
Fifth? What is wrong with Catholic parishioners who in this day and age refuse to entertain the possibility that their beloved parish priest may have pulled the wool over their eyes?
Sixth? What are the names of the other priests identified as molesters in the Statement of Claim?
It’s a dirty mess. Yes, I feel for the parishioners who may eventually have to shake their heads and acknowledge they have been betrayed, not only by their beloved priest, but probably also by their bishop, and by the Archbishop of Liverpool (who kept the settlement under wraps). I feel too for the victim who has watched this deception play out for years.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Time perhaps for a little honesty?
Enough for now,