BY SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLICS nationwide have rallied to support their beleaguered cardinal in the face of a media onslaught against him.
A second week of attacks against the Catholic Church and Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor have been met with defiant unity by the clergy, laity and the Catholic press.
Two of the four other archbishops of England and Wales publicly voiced their support for the cardinal and the Catholic Communications Service said all the Catholic newspapers had shown equal sympathy.
The BBC and The Times went on the offensive after paedophile Michael Hill was sentenced to five years in jail last week. They repeated a story first broken in 1997, then rehashed in 2000, about the mistake made by the cardinal when, as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, he appointed Hill to Gatwick Airport in 1985.
The cardinal had initially suspended Hill after he received complaints of his offending behaviour as a priest in Surrey.
According to some observers, he acted ahead of his time by sending Hill for therapy at a Church-run clinic in Stroud, Gloucestershire, but then gave him a second chance after receiving "conflicting psychiatric reports" from medical experts. Hill went on to reoffend while at Gatwick.
The cardinal is under pressure to resign in spite of MS repeated apologies and public acknowledgements of his error.
The Times and the BBC's Today programme have virtually turned the issue into a campaign and have made a series of damaging allegations against both the Church and the cardinal, who, according to The Times, was guilty of "moral failure". The paper later claimed to have uncovered "paedophile hotspots" and accused the Church of paying "hush money" to keep victims quiet.
The BBC first accused the cardinal of aiming a blind eye to paedophilia and claimed knowledge of eight other abusive priests in Arundel and Brighton.
This week it went further and on Today accused the Westminster archdiocese of inappropriately handling a complaint by a 17-year-old youth against a seminarian, even though Church authorities had followed the recommendations of the Nolan Report on child protection to the letter.
The attacks have been so severe and protracted that they prompted Cardinal MurphyO'Connor to issue a letter to his parishes last weekend. "As you know, not only I personally but the whole Catholic Church in England and Wales have been under attack from some quarters during these past days," he said.
"I am very conscious that all our priests and people, feeling the weight of that pressure, are deeply concerned. For myself, I deeply regret any damage that has been done following a niisfaken decision irdie past. Failure, of course, has to be acknowledged, but we also recognise the gift of the Lord's forgiveness.
"All of you, the people of the diocese, are aware of the goodness and trustworthiness of the overwhelming majority of our priests. You are also aware of the tremendous efforts that the Catholic Church is undertaking for the protection of children. The report of Lord Nolan's independent committee has been accepted by all the bishops, and is being implemented in all the parishes of our two counties.
"This is something that nurtures confidence both in the bishops and all of you, that the protection of children is of the highest priority in the Catholic Church and will remain so. The Nolan Report will be built upon in time to come."
The day afterwards, the cardinal's letter was described in The Times as "diabolical" self-pity by the paper's chief source on the issue, Margaret Kennedy of the Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors group.
The newspaper also reported wrongly, according to a diocesan spokesman, that former Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville of Birmingham was being investigated by police for allegedly "protecting child abusers". Days earlier it had alleged that Sam Penny and Eric Taylor, two priests who were jailed for crimes against children, formed a "paedophile ring" at a Warwickshire chil-dren's home,
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