East Anglia Diocese admits mistakes over former priest
The Diocese of East Anglia has admitted making historic mistakes in allowing a Catholic priest who had a conviction for indecency in New Zealand in 1976 to play a role in parishes across Norfolk and Suffolk from the 1980s.
Fr Cornelius O’Brien, whose conviction was unknown to the diocese at that time, worked in Quidenham and Felixstowe in the 1980s and returned, after retirement, to Wymondham in 1999.
In 2000, when Fr O’Brien wanted to become more involved in parish work, a Police check was carried out and as part of that process, O’Brien voluntarily disclosed his 1976 conviction in New Zealand. As a result of that disclosure measures were taken to restrict his ministry, says the diocese.
The current Bishop of East Anglia, Rt Rev Alan Hopes, said: “Although never formally a priest of the diocese, Fr O’Brien would undoubtedly have been involved in the parishes in which he lived. When his conviction was disclosed in 2000, steps were taken to restrict his ministry.
“It is fair to say that by the more rigorous standards of safeguarding which we rightly follow today, more should have been done to ascertain his history and he should not have been in any form of public ministry.
“Under the national safeguarding procedures introduced in 2001, where a priest asks to be transferred from one diocese to another, formal undertakings have to be given by the Bishop that the priest is of good standing before such a move can take place.”
Fr O’Brien was never incardinated as a priest of the Diocese of East Anglia as a request to do so was turned down in the early 1980s by Bishop of East Anglia at the time, Rt Rev Alan Clark; therefore Fr O’Brien did not come under the formal jurisdiction of the Bishop.
Fr O’Brien did however exercise a limited ministry in Norfolk and then Suffolk. He became chaplain at the Carmelite convent at Quidenham from 1981 until September 1984 when he moved to a similar position with the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Felixstowe. In 1985 he moved out of the diocese.
Following his retirement as a priest, in 1999 he returned to live in Wymondham until he died in 2012.
Bishop Alan said: “The safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is of paramount importance to the Catholic Church and this Diocese. There are robust national safeguarding procedures in place and we always follow-up any complaint and co-operate fully with any Police investigation.”