Vatican sacks Scots priest over child abuse claims

Father Thomas Mullen has been dismissed by the Vatican over historic child abuse allegations. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Father Thomas Mullen has been dismissed by the Vatican over historic child abuse allegations. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A SCOTTISH priest at the centre of historic child abuse allegations has been dismissed from the Catholic Church.

The church said Thomas Mullen, who was the priest at Our Lady of Lourdes in Dunfermline, Fife, had been found guilty of “canonical offences”.

In an unprecedented move, Father Mullen was removed from the church following an ecclesiastical investigation into claims of historic sexual abuse by two men. The decision has been described as indicative of a new “zero-tolerance” attitude by both the Catholic Church in Scotland and the Vatican in Rome.

Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said the office of the Catholic Church in Rome had been examining allegations of abuse involving minors with the “greatest care and urgency” in recent years.

Parishioners at Father Mullen’s Dunfermline congregation were told of the decision to dismiss him on Sunday.

In a letter to parishioners, Archbishop Cushley said: “With the canonical process now completed, I regret to inform you that, in a trial which finished recently in Rome, Father Mullen was found guilty of certain canonical offences.

“As a result, he has been dismissed from the clerical state. This means that he may no longer function as a priest, present himself as such or celebrate the sacraments.”

He added: “I know this is a harsh blow for many of you and I share your sense of shame and distress. I also feel for the family and friends of Father Mullen, who will recall with affection the good he also accomplished while a priest among you.

“While it is right to do so, we ought to remember that this sentiment must be balanced against the gravity of the abuse of minors, something which cannot go unheeded, above all when found in someone who ought to be an unequalled example of goodness and purity in our midst.”

The Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, which was led by disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien at the time, suspended Father Mullen in 2011 while police investigated the abuse allegations relating to two alleged victims, now in their 30s and 40s. The archdiocese then ordered a full review into the claims, which was subsequently sent to the Vatican.

Father Mullen had been a priest in the West Lothian parish of St Mary’s, Bathgate, at the same time as Cardinal O’Brien during the 1970s.

A Catholic Church source said the move to remove him may have been unusual, but it was indicative of the church’s “resolve and determination” to deal with the problem of child abuse within its ranks.

He added that resolve was in part down to the new Pope but also the arrival of four new bishops in Scotland during the past 12 months, including Archbishop Cushley, who he said had played a pivotal role in the process of removing Father Mullen and the adoption of a hardline attitude.

“He came back to Scotland after years in the Vatican diplomatic service, so he knows how the system works and knows it very well,” the source said. “So when you take a case to Rome to have a priest dismissed, you’ve obviously got to have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. He’s the man to do that.”

The Crown Office said it had noted the Catholic Church’s announcement. A Crown Office spokesman said: “The procurator-fiscal at Dunfermline received a report in 2011 concerning this individual in connection with alleged incidents in 1976 and 1993.

“After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, Crown counsel decided that there was insufficient available evidence for a prosecution. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal O’Brien, announced he was stepping down as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church in February. He had been accused of inappropriate behaviour towards priests dating back to the 1980s – claims he contests.