National Catholic Register


Accused Archbishop Decries ‘Trial by Media’

BY Paul Burnell

February 14-20, 1999 Issue | Posted 2/14/99 at 1:00 PM


MANCHESTER, England— A bishop accused of assaulting a then 7-year-old girl has vigorously complained about the way his name was leaked to a tabloid newspaper.

Archbishop John Aloysius Ward of Cardiff, Wales, has strongly denied the claims in the case and is furious that news of the confidential police investigation was released to the News Of The World, a national Sunday newspaper with a reputation for publishing salacious scandal.

In a 350-word statement, the archbishop vowed to fight the charges but also to campaign against trial by media.

“Who released this information is not yet known,” he said, “but it is part of the kind of abuse which is turned on the accused, innocent or guilty.”

“No one is above the law,” he added. “Accusations must be answered in an atmosphere of trust that upholds the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is not possible when police connections with the media precede arrest and the interview which follows.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police would not confirm the archbishop's arrest to the Register, saying only that a man had been accused of sexual abuse from the 1960s and that “he was arrested and bailed to return on March 9.”

On the day of his arrest, Archbishop Ward received swift support from Basil Cardinal Hume, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Cardinal Hume said, “The archbishop has issued a vigorous denial of these allegations. I have known him well for many years and he has my full support.”

The archbishop's arrest is the second trauma endured by the Archdiocese of Cardiff in the past year. Last year the archdiocese's press officer, Father John Lloyd, was jailed for eight years for rape and indecent assault on minors.

Archbishop Ward commented, “Tragically, there have been cases where priests have been guilty of heinous crimes which must be condemned. But many priests have been falsely accused — as well as teachers, doctors, social workers, etc. — and because of police connections with the media, their lives have been made a misery and their ministry damaged.”

The 70-year-old archbishop was arrested by police after voluntarily attending a police station in London with his attorney. Officers questioned him over claims that he assaulted the girl, now believed to be a 45-year-old woman living in Ireland, during his time as a parish priest and school governor in Peckham, South London.

The archbishop has often recalled how the local youngsters nicknamed him “Friar Tuck” as he walked around the parish in his distinctive brown Capuchin Franciscan habit.

He was released on bail and is to return to the station March 9, pending a report to the Crown Prosecution Service. No formal charges have been made.

Father Joseph Boardman, the archbishop's press spokesman, told the Register the archbishop had no further comment to add to the statement he issued on his release by the police and would not be talking to journalists until the matter was resolved.

His statement suggests that he may address these issues more in the future. In it he said, “The Church has had enough of these tragedies and travesties of injustice and abuse. … In the present climate, none of us is safe from false accusations. Now that a bishop is so accused, I will use my position to go public and ask the kind of questions that challenge present procedures that are a dangerous machinery for grave miscarriages of justice.”

The archbishop, who has suffered health problems in the past year, has been a priest for 45 years. He was ordained bishop of the neighboring Menevia Diocese in Wales in 1980 and went to the See of Cardiff in 1983.

Under Britain's strict Contempt of Court legislation the details of a case can be subject to tight restrictions once a charge has been made. Even then some newspapers openly flout the law if tipped off by the police. Before a person is charged, police keep their name secret. But in a number of high-profile cases, names have been leaked to the press.

Three years ago Monsignor Michael Buckley, a broadcaster and newspaper columnist, was arrested on police bail following allegations of indecent assault by a woman who claimed the priest had molested her more than 20 years previously. His name was leaked to the press, although the case was eventually dropped.

“I didn't even know the person,” Monsignor Buckley, a columnist with the national Catholic newspaper The Universe, told the Register. He didn't want to comment on the Ward case stating, “I'm trying to get away from what happened to me.”

The archbishop said in his statement that he expects to be exonerated: “I have not been charged, only interviewed. I expect the process to be concluded in the near future. I vigorously deny these allegations against me. The truth will out. It will set us free and those who know me will have no problems accepting that.”

Paul Burnell writes from Manchester, England.