BY SIMON CALDWELL
A Jisurr who was appointed British provincial even though he had been accused of child abuse has died unexpectedly after a routine knee operation.
Fr George "Jock" Earle, 78, spent 53 years in the Society of Jesus and was working with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Osterley, Middlesex, at the time of his death.
Fr Earle rose to prominence early in his ministry then became engulfed in a scandal when he was accused of sexually abusing a pupil at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, in the 1970s when headmaster.
The matter was resolved by a compromise agreed between the boy's parents, the Jesuits and the deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and the case did not reach trial. But the deal meant that Fr Earle, who had consistently denied the allegations, was removed from his post at the school.
Fr Earle was appointed British provincial on his 56th birthday in September 1981. It was during his term in office, that the Jesuits began their review of their ministries in the service of the Church, a process which continues today.
He was later assigned to South Africa where he specialised in giving retreats and became closely involved in priestly formation.
In 1999 Fr Earle was called back to Britain to face the earlier case of child abuse under Operation Whiting, the police investigation into child abuse that centred on Stonyhurst College and its preparatory school, St Mary's Hall.
A judge at Preston Crown Court dismissed the single case against him when the police disclosed that the matter had been dealt with satisfactorily in the 1970s.
Fr Earle afterwards joined the JRS where he assisted asylum seekers and campaigned for the rights of detainees. He also gave retreats at Osterley Retreat Centre.
Jesuit Fr Dermot Preston, speaking on behalf of British Provincial Fr David Smolira, said: "Jock was a lively and energetic character.
"He was passionate about Ignatian spirituality and giving retreats, and his death leaves a big gap for those people who have benefited from his individually-guided retreats at Osterley. I k also cared deeply about education, both at secondary level and beyond, and he carried his compassion into the JRS, working tirelessly on behalf of asylum seekers and detainees."
FrEarle converted to the Catholic faith at the age of 19 years. He read history at Balliol College, Oxford, and joined the Society of Jesus in 1950. He was ordained priest in 1960.
Fr Smolira will concelebrate a Requiem Mass for Fr Earle in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, London, on Tuesday.