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‘No lewd parties’ but Bishop made ‘errors of judgement’ says Inquiry

by Donna Birrell

Allegations that lewd parties took place at Newcastle’s St Mary’s Cathedral during the pandemic are ‘simply untrue’ according to details of an inquiry published on the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle's website. Archbishop Malcolm McMahon was tasked with carrying out an investigation for the Catholic Dicastery for Bishops.

The Inquiry follows controversy over Bishop Robert Byrne who left his role as Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle in December saying the burden had become ‘too great’.

Byrne was appointed as bishop of Hexham and Newcastle in 2019, and by September that year had appointed Father Michael McCoy as Dean. McCoy killed himself in April 2021 after police told him they were investigating an allegation of historic child sex abuse.

In his Executive Report Archbishop McMahon wrote that Bishop Byrne had made an ‘error of judgement’ in appointing Michael McCoy to a high profile position at the Cathedral after he had been notified of safeguarding allegations against him. He said Bishop Byrne ‘could have paid greater heed to ensuring that Michael McCoy was appropriately managed given the safeguarding concerns which had been raised.’

Archbishop McMahon said a further error of judgement occurred regarding Timothy Gardner, a member of the Dominican order. Gardner is a convicted paedophile who Bishop Byrne had known for many years. The Archbishop stated that they were seen associating together in public in Newcastle and it was known that Gardner was a frequent visitor at the Bishop’s House. Archbishop McMahon wrote that ‘despite being advised by senior priests in the diocese that this was an inappropriate relationship Bishop Byrne insisted that it was a pastoral relationship and therefore appropriate and refused their advice. Bishop Byrne failed to understand the risks he was taking both for himself and the diocese.’

With regard to allegations of lewd parties at the Cathedral, Archbishop McMahon said this was 'simply untrue'.  The report stated that after volunteers had spent long days sanitising the Cathedral, they were 'offered a takeaway meal and a glass of wine.' Because Covid restrictions were in force at the time a report was made to Northumbria Police, who decided to take no action. The report says Bishop Byrne wasn’t present at any of the gatherings.

The report also criticised Bishop Byrne’s decision to sell the Bishop's House in West Denton and purchase a new home in a more expensive area and said some priests and worshippers considered it an error of judgment.

 Archbishop McMahon concluded that other matters relating to Bishop Byrne's resignation were not of public interest and wouldn't be published.

A safeguarding review carried out by the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency is believed to be near completion and will be published in full in the next few weeks.

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