The Catholic Safeguarding Standard Agency (CSSA) has published a report criticising the former Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
The report highlights two specific areas of concern about Bishop Robert Byrne which were raised by abuse survivors, safeguarding professionals and other people who gave evidence to the CSSA.
Bishop Bryne took office in 2019 and served three years. He told the agency he supported keeping people safe.
The report says witnesses said Bishop Byrne maintained a close friendship with a priest who was registered sex offender. The report does not name the man for legal reasons but says the priest “evidently socialised with Bishop Byrne, spent time at Bishop’s House during the day and overnight…and was recommended by Bishop Byrne for employment”.
The other specific area of concern relates to the appointment of Canon Michael McCoy to be Dean of Newcastle Cathedral. The report says safeguarding concerns had been raised about Father McCoy in 1996, 2007 and 2010.
The chief executive of the CSSA, Simon Ashley, believes, “those safeguarding concerns certainly taken together were clearly indicators of grooming behaviour”.
Despite warnings from the safeguarding team and others, Bishop Byrne went ahead with the appointment.
Simon Ashley says “that, we felt, undermined safeguarding professionals. Undermining them in that way creates a culture where safeguarding is not seen as the most important function within the diocese."
Bishop Byrne resigned from the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle at the end of 2022. Father McCoy took his own life in 2021.
Speaking on the day the report was published, Simon Ashley said he hoped its publication would trigger significant reforms to safeguarding in the Catholic Church.
He told Premier: “One of the things that my chair Nazir Afzal said to me was ‘unfortunately, sometimes you have to publish the truth in order to make progress’.
“And that is exactly what I feel we have done.
“The one hope we do have coming out of this is that this level of openness being shown by the Church, the transparency, really says the church may be turning a corner in regard to how it deals with this type of issue.”
The report makes over 20 recommendations for changes either in the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese or the Catholic Church Nationally.
It notes that safeguarding in the diocese has already improved and now “generally follows current safeguarding practice, in that it meets the minimum required standards”.
But it notes that under Bishop Byrne, there was “a failure of leadership” which resulted in a “failure of safeguarding.”