Safeguarding investigation underway following resignation of North East bishop

Robert Byrne, former Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Credit: Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

The Roman Catholic Church has ordered an investigation to be carried out into the events leading up to the resignation of a North East bishop.

The Hexham and Newcastle Diocese has confirmed a number of reviews are underway following the resignation of Bishop Robert Byrne in December.

It comes after the Sunday Times reported allegations of an inappropriate gathering held during lockdown at St Marys Cathedral in Newcastle while he was bishop.

There is currently no suggestion Mr Byrne was aware of the party but it is claimed it was organised by a priest he appointed, Michael McCoy.

Mr McCoy took his own life in April 2021.

An inquest heard four days before his death he was told he was being investigated by police after allegations of historic sexual offences were made against him.

There are three reviews being carried out, including an investigation being led by the Archbishop of Liverpool.

In a letter from Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, shared with Clergy, Religious and Diocesan employees, he wrote: "I have been asked by the Dicastery for Bishops to prepare an in-depth report into the events leading up to Bishop Byrne’s resignation."

In the letter, he also confirmed he has invited the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) to review diocesan safeguarding.

He continued: "There has been much speculation and heightened interest from the press and others regarding some of the issues here.

"The purpose of the Safeguarding Review is to audit and examine the culture, governance, processes and practice of safeguarding in the Dioceses of Hexham & Newcastle."

In a statement issued by CSSA on 19 January, Chief Executive Stephen Ashley said: “We can confirm that we have started an official, independent, unscheduled safeguarding audit and safeguarding review in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.

“The CSSA’s Quality Assurance Team are leading this work and I will oversee it. We will publish our independent recommendations publicly, as soon as possible, once our team has completed its investigatory work and satisfied all lines of inquiry.”

Robert Byrne was appointed Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle by the Pope in 2019 and announced his resignation in December 2022.

A spokesperson from Hexham and Newcastle Diocese said: "The Diocese had previously invited the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) to conduct a review following the resignation of Bishop Byrne in December 2022.

"Diocesan Trustees have met and have had contact with the chief executive and representatives of the CSSA this week. They have discussed how the review, originally scheduled to happen in May 2023, will be undertaken and how the findings will be published. The review is now underway. 

"Prior to Bishop Byrne’s resignation in mid-December, Trustees were working with the Charity Commission, following their self-referral to that organisation. 

"The Diocese will continue to work productively and swiftly with both organisations, learning where it needs to, not from rumours and misinformation, but from the facts and evidence provided. 

"The Diocese remains fully committed to safeguarding as an integral part of the life and the ministry of the Church, and to providing assurance that its safeguarding procedures are appropriate and as they need to be.”

 It was one of the biggest news stories of our time - and it's still not over. So what did Boris Johnson know about Downing Street’s notorious parties?

With fresh revelations from our Number 10 sources, in their own words, listen to the inside story...