LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic diocese in England says a BBC report alleging that nobody has been held to account for ignored child-grooming concerns is “significantly inaccurate.”

The Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) published a report in June 2023 that found Bishop Robert Byrne of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle put vulnerable people at risk by ignoring professional advice.

The CSSA found that Byrne – who took office in 2019 – promoted a priest he knew was suspected of grooming schoolboys and had an inappropriate close friendship with a convicted pedophile, Father Timothy Gardner, who was on the sex offenders register.

The BBC’s Dec. 12 report noted the CSSA also said Canon Michael McCoy, the Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle who killed himself in 2021 after an investigation into historical allegations was launched, displayed a “clear pattern of grooming behavior over the years” and there was an “abundance of warning signals” with the diocese missing opportunities to “prevent or ameliorate harm.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Herald reported Byrne was himself named to the police in December 2022 after an allegation of abuse was made against him by a priest from another diocese to his bishop. This was when the priest resigned his post, saying his position had “become too great a burden to bear.”

The latest BBC report quoted Angie Richardson, who said she quit as a safeguarding coordinator over the former bishop’s behavior, and people at the diocese “failed to challenge” him.

She also said there were people in senior positions at the diocese “who did not act and allowed Bishop Robert Byrne to stay in role with no restrictions on his ministry.”

“The overall feeling for me is anger … I feel they’ve failed to acknowledge that they got things wrong,” Richardson told the BBC.

“They’re hiding behind the CSSA report and not acknowledging that they failed. Nobody has been held to account,” she said.

Richardson told the BBC she believes the diocese “is in safe hands” with Bishop Stephen Wright, who was appointed head of Hexham and Newcastle in June, but added she felt “incredibly disappointed” after meeting him to outline her concerns.

“He heard what I had to say but nobody has investigated the concerns that I raised. They just continue to ignore them,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle said the diocese is “dedicated to the effective safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults in our parishes and institutions, and we treat any allegation of abuse extremely seriously.”

The spokesperson said the diocese therefore would be grateful to the BBC, and those who have contributed to the latest program, “for examining our strategy, and we would be happy to act upon any new information that might result in improvements in our practices and procedures.”

“The allegations made against the diocese in this program, however, are significantly inaccurate and we reject them. We have not refused to acknowledge past failings but have repeatedly apologized publicly for them and do so again. Since his installation in July, Bishop Stephen Wright, the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, has met victims/survivors and will continue to do so,” the diocesan statement says.

“We are not hiding behind a report by the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA). This body is an independent regulator headed by a nationally respected former Crown prosecutor and it is free to make any recommendations it wishes, including the appointment of personnel. The audit did not find fault with the conduct of present senior officers. The audit suggested areas of improvement in policies, procedures and processes, both local and national, which are being addressed. This is not evidence of scandal. It is the reverse,” the spokesperson said.

“It is not true that individuals in senior positions ‘did not act’ in respect of Robert Byrne, the previous bishop. Unless the bishop decided to relinquish his office of his own volition, he could be removed only by the Pope. His conduct was challenged by diocesan personnel on numerous occasions prior to his resignation,” the statement continued.

“The Diocese has moved forward. We are implementing all of the recommendations of the CSSA. The Diocese has been consistently open to hearing about any safeguarding concerns raised both internally or by outside parties and it is untrue to say that we have ignored them.”

“We have not attempted to silence anyone who has raised safeguarding concerns with us,” the statement said. “This also applies to our clergy. To suggest that in doing so they might be punished is totally inaccurate. The Diocese has published a complaints policies and procedures which can be used by anybody,” the spokesperson concludes.

However, Richardson told the BBC it had been “the worst two-and-a-half years of my life” since she reported her concerns.

“I’ve been ignored by the diocese. They threaten you with legal action and isolate you professionally and personally,” she said.