A bishop made a “succession of errors of judgment” including associating with a paedophile friar despite being warned not to, an official report into his resignation has found.
But media reports that “lewd” lockdown parties were held at Newcastle’s St Mary’s Cathedral were “simply untrue”, according to an inquiry into events leading up to Bishop Robert Byrne leaving his role as Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle in December.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon was tasked with carrying out an investigation for the Dicastery for Bishops and an executive summary has been published on the Newcastle Diocese website.
He said there were four issues which had an impact on Bishop Byrne’s role: lockdown; buying a new house in a leafy Newcastle suburb; the suicide of the Cathedral Dean Canon Michael McCoy; and Bishop Byrne’s continued association with convicted paedophile Father Timothy Gardner.
The executive summary stated: “There has been much commentary in mainstream and social media on events in the Diocese, which have been addressed during the report.
“Allegations that lewd parties took place at St Mary’s Cathedral during the pandemic are simply untrue.”
The report stated that the police were informed after volunteers who had sanitised the cathedral were invited into the cathedral house for “refreshments”, in breach of lockdown.
It added: “On occasion after long days, the volunteers were offered a take-away meal and a glass of wine.
“At the time, Covid regulations were in force and a report was made to Northumbria Police, but no action was taken.
“Subsequently, as part of this investigation a further report has been made to the police, who once again decided to take no action.”
Bishop Byrne was not present at any of these gatherings, the report said.
“Bishop Byrne could have relocated to a property that served his and diocesan needs in a less conspicuous area at a lower cost,” the report said.
Regarding Canon McCoy’s “sad death by suicide”, the report said he had twice been subject the of “safeguarding plans regarding boundaries relevant to working with older teenagers”.
He killed himself in April 2021 after police told him they were investigating an allegation of historic child sex abuse.
The report said Bishop Byrne had been informed by “more than one source” of safeguarding issues surrounding Canon McCoy before he was appointed to work at the cathedral.
“It was an error of judgment to then promote a priest with a safeguarding record to a high-profile position,” the report said.
“Instead, Bishop Byrne could have paid greater heed to ensuring that Michael McCoy was appropriately managed given the safeguarding concerns which had been raised.”
“They were seen associating together in public in Newcastle and it was known that Gardner was a frequent visitor at Bishop’s House,” the summary said.
“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.”
Archbishop McMahon concluded: “I emphasise that it was a succession of errors of judgment by Bishop Byrne that exacerbated the key issues above.
“In my view, he himself was unable to see a path forward, and his failure to see his part in these situations made clear his inability to cope with the demands of his role.”
Lawyer Richard Scorer, who has acted for many survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church said the investigation was “completely inadequate”.
The head of abuse law at Slater Gordon said: “Whilst acknowledging that the bishop consorted in public with a convicted paedophile, appointed a safeguarding risk to the cathedral and used charitable funds to buy a posh house, it puts these appalling failings down to ‘errors of judgment’ and says nothing about the culture and structure of the Catholic Church which allows a bishop to behave in this way in the first place.
“The weasel words in this report prove the need for external oversight of church safeguarding; the Catholic Church clearly cannot police itself”.