Two years ago the bishops’ conference of England and Wales put into place guidelines on how to handle priests accused of abuse, based on the report of a commission headed by a Lord Nolan. It was similar to the guidelines put in place for the US based on the Dallas Charter of 2002.
But a story from England in the past week shows the shortcomings of relying on such a policy, because in fact any policy is only as good as those who have to enforce it. Father William Hofton was sentenced to prison last week after being convicted of abusing teenage brothers over a five-year period. But that came after Hofton had already been sanctioned for an earlier case of abuse.
Hofton originally admitted abuse after he was contacted by a former victim in 2002 about incidents at a seminary in 1986 when the youth was 17. The priest reported the incident to the church authorities, who called in the police, removed him from parish duties and sent him for independent psychiatric assessment. That concluded that he was a low risk and he was moved to another parish under conditions which stopped unsupervised access to young people, though his church was connected to a school. The police did not pursue their investigation after the victim did not press charges.