Saturday, December 18, 2010

Priest removed
Priest steps down amid sex scandal

ALLEGATIONS: Monsignor Michael Smith has temporarily been replaced TWSL20100910A-005_C
By lee moran

A CATHOLIC priest from Tonbridge has stepped down from his post over an allegation of sexually assaulting a child.

Monsignor Michael Smith, parish priest at Corpus Christi Church for 19 years, was arrested on December 7 on suspicion of sexual assault.

The Archbishop of Southwark Peter Smith and Bishop John Hine took charge of mass at the Lyons Crescent church over the weekend.

The Archbishop told the stunned congregation it was "with great sadness" he had to inform them that the 63-year-old priest had "an allegation made against him concerning a young person".

He said: "This is being investigated by the police and, in accordance with the safeguarding guidelines of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, he has temporarily withdrawn from public ministry.

"Such temporary withdrawal from public ministry doesn't constitute Monsignor Smith's removal from office as parish priest, nor does it in any way imply guilt on his part.

"The diocese is committed to the support and care of all those involved in this matter and I, and Bishop John Hine, will be with you this weekend as a personal and visible expression of that commitment."

Monsignor Smith was inducted as the parish priest of Corpus Christi in September 1992, after serving as private secretary to Archbishop Michael Bowen of Southwark for ten years.

He was ordained as a priest in 1977 and became Monsignor in 1988.

The Archbishop said Father Tom McElhone had been drafted in as the parish administrator during Monsignor Smith's absence.

And he added: "As you will appreciate, the diocese is equally committed to ensuring the safety and protection of every child and vulnerable person in our parishes.

"It has been co-operating fully with the statutory authorities.

"Until the police investigation has been completed, which may take some time, it will not be possible to make any further comments."

A Kent Police spokesman confirmed a 63-year-old man was arrested on December 7 on suspicion of sexual assault and had been given police bail pending further enquiries.

Monsignor Smith was unavailable for comment as The Courier went to press.

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