Suspended priest may never return to Darlington parish, expert says

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The Northen Echo (UK)

3:59pm Friday 5th April 2013

Photograph of the Author By Joe Willis, Regional Chief Reporter

SUSPENDED: Fr Michael Higginbottom

SUSPENDED: Fr Michael Higginbottom

SUSPENDED priest Father Michael Higginbottom may never return to his parish – despite not being charged with any crime, an expert on Catholic Church sexual abuse allegations claimed last night.

Parishioners from St Augustine’s Church, in Darlington, where Fr Higginbottom was priest from 1998 until his suspension in 2004, are also not hopeful of his swift return.

A Northern Echo  investigation has revealed that Fr Higginbottom, who has been suspended for nine years, was questioned – but not charged – by police after being accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy.

The former pupil who was taught by the priest at St Joseph’s College, near Wigan, received a £35,000 pay-off from the Catholic Church – which did not accept liability – before the case could go to court.

Fr Higginbottom was interviewed by police over the allegations but was never charged with any offence.

The church has repeatedly refused to answer questions on the case from parishioners and the media.

David Greenwood, chairman of the Stop Church Child Abuse campaign, said: “The circumstances of this case don’t surprise me in the slightest.

“It’s due to internal law set down by the Vatican which in these cases requires the bishops to undertake all investigations entirely in secret.

“If it’s felt appropriate, the secret file will be passed to the Vatican to make a decision upon.

“The mechanisms of doing all that takes so long that priests are very rarely dealt with expediently.”

Mr Greenwood said it was very rare for a priest to be excommunicated or exonerated.

“It’s more likely that even a priest accused of the most serious crimes will merely be suspended,” he added.

Parishioners at St Augustine’s Church were today (FRIDAY) digesting the new information on Fr Higginbottom’s suspension.

Jim Cunningham, chairman of the parish council at St Augustine’s, said he believed the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, which suspended the priest, had completed its investigations and its report had been passed to Rome for a decision.

He added: “The Catholic Church isn’t known for doing anything quickly and I don’t expect to see him back anytime soon.

“I think there will be quite a few people who will be shocked (by the new information) but we come back to the point that there doesn’t seem to have been enough evidence for it to be brought before a criminal court.

“If it had been it may have been done and dusted by now and Father Michael would not still be in this kind of limbo.”

2 Responses to Suspended priest may never return to Darlington parish, expert says

  1. Sylvia says:

    The whole thing smells to high heaven!

  2. Stephen Hodkinson says:

    Strange how the petition for “Father” Higginbottom has suddenly disappeared? It never had any support and was supposed to help? This sex abuser? I think it delivered a clear message and dug a deeper hole for their friend? Nobody ever said that Higginbottom abused anybody from his part of the country, they were his golden boys and cared for to the last. It is about time people accepted what this individual actually delivered daily to children’s lives? Let us be clear about this, his victims were children. These children were put in the care of the Liverpool Diocese and the sae Diocese failed these young children! Can you even start to comprehend what destruction this individual brought to these young lives? Remember he was not the only one that abused children there. The question that really wants answering is who knew what? These priests, and I use the term loosely, were given carte blanche to do as they wished. In truth Upholland was a paedophiles heaven. Forty years on and I witness daily that this individual destroyed lives and probably cannot even remember his victims. They were just objects to take his sordid sexual fantasies out on! They really make me sick to my core! Let’s all wake up now!

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