In this climate no one is safe, Archbishop Ward says
January 30, 1999
The head of the Catholic Church in Wales, Archbishop John Aloysius Ward, was arrested by police on Tuesday in connection with allegations made of sexual assaults on a girl of six or seven some 39 years ago. Archbishop Ward has proclaimed his complete innocence, and has released a long statement. He is on bail until 9 March and the archdiocese is hoping that the situation will be resolved quickly.
When the allegations were first reported, in the sensationalist News of the World on 17 January, the archbishop said: "I have never touched a woman sexually and that is why I am at peace with myself. I can say before God that there was no action by me against her."
It is said that the woman in question is now 45 and lives in Ireland. The alleged incidents date back to 1960 and 1961, when Ward was parish priest in Peckham, south London. The archbishop is reported to have said that she contacted him once before, in a letter outlining her claims. He was arrested soon after he turned up voluntarily for a prearranged interview at Walworth Road police station on Tuesday morning.
Archbishop Ward, who is a Capuchin friar, was 70 last Sunday. He was educated at Prior Park College, Bath, and was ordained a priest in 1953. After working in Peckham from 1960 to 1966 he went to Rome in 1970. In 1980 he was ordained bishop, and was promoted from Menevia to the archdiocese of Cardiff in 1983.
Fr Joseph Boardman, the archbishop's private secretary, said: "Archbishop Ward does not know the woman making these allegations. He is baffled and bewildered by the allegations. He will continue with his work and has not considered resignation."
Cardinal Hume said: "The archbishop has issued a vigorous denial of these allegations. I have known him well for many years and he has my full support."
The full text of Archbishop Ward's statement is as follows: "On Saturday 16 January I was contacted by the News of the World. They had received information that allegations of sexual abuse of a seven-year-old child had been made against me. These dated back to 1960-1961. Who released this information is not yet known, but it is part of the kind of abuse which is turned on the accused, innocent or guilty.
"No one is above the law. Accusations must be answered in an atmosphere of trust that upholds the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is not possible when police connections with the media precede arrest and the interview which follows. This is not the practice of most police authorities, but it is common enough. Tragically, there have been cases where priests have been guilty of heinous crimes which must be condemned. But many priests have been falsely accused — as well as teachers, doctors, social workers etc. — and because of police connections with the media, their lives have been made a misery and their ministry damaged. The Church has had enough of these tragedies and travesties of injustice and abuse.
"In the present climate, none of us is safe from false accusations. Now that a bishop is so accused, I will use my position to go public and ask the kind of questions that challenge present procedures that are a dangerous machinery for grave miscarriages of justice.
"I have not been charged, only interviewed. I expect the process to be concluded in the near future. I vigorously deny these allegations against me. The truth will out. It will set us free. And those who know me will have no problems accepting that. Finally, I am co-operating fully with the police who have treated me with appropriate courtesy. No further comment will be made."