Human rights organisation criticises church's 'meaningless words' after Aylesbury priest is convicted of sexually abusing children

Francis McDermott
Francis McDermott

Last week former Catholic priest Francis McDermott, who practised in Aylesbury between 1990 and 2005, was sent to prison for almost ten years for sexually abusing six children in the 1970s.

During the trial, which this reporter attended, a common theme throughout was the importance of Mr McDermott's role as a priest with regards to enabling him to commit his crimes for so long undetected.

Stephen Evans, CEO of The National Secular Society

Stephen Evans, CEO of The National Secular Society

Many victims spoke of their parents' piety and consequent lack of scrutiny of the priest's behaviour, resulting in them being left alone as young children for hours at a time with a man in his thirties.

One victim said: “Because of their Catholic faith they believed what they were told – that's what the Catholic religion meant to my mother – she wouldn't question it.”

Unfortunately, as has been true in numerous similar cases around the world, it was revealed both during the course of the trial and at the sentencing hearing that the Catholic church had missed opportunities to intervene and report Father McDermott to the police earlier than they eventually did.

In their personal statement given before sentencing, one victim said of the church:

“Their intervention on my behalf was ineffectual,” and described how the church even got their name wrong when they replied to her letter of complaint.

In a statement following the sentencing of Francis McDermott, the Bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, said:

“My heart goes out to all those affected by these terrible crimes. How courageous the women and men have been after having carried the wounds of abuse for more than forty years. My hope is that the sentence today will aid in the long journey of healing for the victims and survivors of this abuse.

"I wish to reassure you all that abuse of any kind is not tolerated in the Church and that we will together, lay people and clergy, continue the building of safe environments for all.”

Stephen Evans, CEO of The National Secular Society which campaigns for equal respect for everyone's human rights, so no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged because of their beliefs, said of this statement:

“Rather than more meaningless words from the Church we need to see concrete action that will help bring the guilty to secular justice and recompense to victims. Most notably we need to see the introduction of mandatory reporting of institutional abuse, including that disclosed in the confessional. Regrettably, the church remains opposed to such measures.”

See our full court report of the sentencing hearing here.