Church knew Catholic priest was convicted child abuser - but did not stop him working

Father Cornelius O'Brien photographed during his time in New Zealand where he carried out a

Father Cornelius O'Brien photographed during his time in New Zealand where he carried out a "litany of offending" against boys before working as a priest in East Anglia. Photo: Submitted


A paedophile was allowed to work as a Catholic priest despite the church knowing he was a child abuser.

Earlier this month we reported how Father Cornelius O’Brien, who had a conviction for child abuse, was able to work unchecked as a priest in Norfolk for years.

He was convicted of abusing a 10-year-old boy while working as a priest in New Zealand in 1976 and was sent to the UK where he worked for the Diocese of Brentwood and then the Diocese of East Anglia.

He died in Wymondham in 2012 aged 77.

It has now emerged Brentwood knew O’Brien abused a boy in Christchurch, New Zealand, but they failed to warn the Diocese of East Anglia when he moved in 1981. It meant the Diocese of East Anglia did not know about O’Brien’s conviction until 2000 when he disclosed it to police.

In those years another boy was allegedly abused by him.

From 1976 to 1981 O’Brien was an assistant priest in the Diocese of Brentwood.

Brentwood today confirmed that it knew about O’Brien’s conviction for abuse in New Zealand.

The New Zealand church also said it had warned Brentwood when he moved there.

But a spokesman for Brentwood said it did not know where O’Brien went when he left them in 1981, which was why the church in East Anglia was not warned.

“This would not happen today,” they said. “All allegations of abuse reported to the Diocese of Brentwood and indeed the Catholic Church in England and Wales more generally are immediately passed on to the police.”

A man came forward to the Diocese of East Anglia in 2010 and made an allegation against O’Brien dating back to the 1980s. Police took no further action after investigating.

Adult victims also came forward to the church in New Zealand in 2004 and 2016 about historic abuse and have been awarded compensation.

An investigation by the Diocese of Christchurch found the priest carried out a “litany of offending” against boys in the 1960s and 70s.

In East Anglia he worked as chaplain at the Carmelite convent at Quidenham, from 1981 until 1984 and then at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Felixstowe.

He moved out of the area in 1985.

It is not known where he worked from 1985 until his retirement.

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