Monday, January 30, 2023

Bishop reported to police for abuse as Vatican probes lockdown sex parties

 robert byrne, a secret sex party in a monastery during covid? Controversy  of Bishop's resignation in Britain; vatican starts inquiry into resignation  of bishop robert byrne after controversy over the lockdown party -

Bishop Robert Byrne has been reported to the police following an allegation of abuse made against him by a Catholic priest.

The Oratorian stepped down as Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle in December – almost a decade before he was due to retire – saying that the demands of his office were “too great a burden”.

Last week, however, the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops launched an investigation for “an in-depth report into the events leading up to Bishop Byrne’s resignation” which will be overseen by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool.

The inquiry comes amid reports of gay sex parties at the cathedral house during lockdown which were said to be attended by a local drag queen. There is no evidence to suggest that Bishop Byrne was present at the parties or knew of them.

Concerns were also raised, however, over attempts by Bishop Byrne to move Timothy Gardner into cathedral house even though the former Dominican priest was convicted in 2014 of making 5,005 images of child pornography. Many of the pictures were graded at level four and five – considered to be the most extreme – and one depicted bestiality.

The Catholic Herald has now learned that Bishop Byrne was himself reported to the police in December after an allegation of abuse was made against him by a priest from another diocese to his bishop.

Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Papal Nuncio to Great Britain, and Archbishop McMahon were subsequently told and safeguarding agencies also informed. 

In a letter seen by the Catholic Herald, Archbishop McMahon wrote: “I can confirm that the police have been notified.”

Neither the identity of the priest and his bishop, nor the diocese, nor the police force informed of the complaint were named in the letter.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Liverpool confirmed that the Vatican now wanted to know all the events leading up to Bishop Byrne’s decision to quit at the age of 66.

He said: “Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, as Metropolitan Archbishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, has been asked by the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome to prepare an in-depth report into the events leading to Bishop Byrne’s resignation.

“Archbishop McMahon and the diocesan trustees of Hexham and Newcastle have invited the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) to review diocesan safeguarding, and this work started on 19 January.”

Stephen Ashley, the chief executive of the CSSA, confirmed that the agency was undertaking an “official, independent, unscheduled safeguarding audit and safeguarding review in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle”.

He said: “The CSSA’s Quality Assurance Team are leading this work and I will oversee it.  We will publish our independent recommendations publicly, as soon as possible, once our team has completed its investigatory work and satisfied all lines of inquiry.”

Nazir Afzal, chair of the CSSA, said: “Our job is to audit and review safeguarding in Catholic Church bodies. We are now active in a safeguarding review in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.”

He added: “Naturally, we cannot yet speak to the detail of investigatory work which is ongoing, but there should be no doubt that we will leave no stone unturned to when it comes to keeping people safe, and this includes investigating the safeguarding culture in Hexham and Newcastle.”

The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle has referred itself to the Charity Commission.

The Vatican investigation, which will be conducted in addition to the CSSA review, will examine past and present clergy, volunteers and staff and also “focus on culture and governance arrangements around the safeguarding process”.

According to reports, the lockdown parties were organised by Canon Michael McCoy, the cathedral dean who took his own life in April 2021, aged 57, when he learned he was being investigated by Northumbria Police’s child and adult protection department over an historic allegation of child abuse.

Canon McCoy was installed as dean by Bishop Byrne in 2019, replacing the late Fr Dermott Donnelly, the brother of TV presenter Declan Donnelly.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, Canon McCoy invited several parishioners to the parties in the priests’ living quarters, triggering in a number of complaints against him.

At the time of his resignation, Bishop Byrne announced his intention to join the Oratorian Congregation in Oxford. He has not returned to the city, however.