Diocese is shaken as former altar boy takes legal action claiming that negligence exposed him to priest who was 'a danger to children'

The Catholic church faces fresh allegations of turning a blind eye to paedophilia after an Observer investigation revealed that one of its priests was allowed to continue working despite warnings he posed a danger to children.

The priest, Father David Crowley, went on to rape a 10-year-old altar boy, whom he continued to abuse until 1995. Now the victim has spoken publicly for the first time about his ordeal in order to expose the 'scandalous' way he says the church has behaved. He has accused the Rt Rev David Konstant, former Bishop of Leeds, of failing to stop Crowley despite having evidence that the priest was a sex risk to children. In 1997 Crowley was jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to abusing boys for more than a decade.

Article continuesKonstant was Bishop of Leeds for 19 years, chairman of the Catholic Education Service and headed the church's international affairs committee under Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster.

Documents show that in 1987 while Konstant was Bishop of Leeds, he was told of an incident where Crowley had 'facilitated' sexual activities between young boys in Huddersfield after allowing them to drink alcohol. A letter seen by The Observer shows that on 12 March that year, Konstant wrote to Crowley telling him that 'the grave scandal' means 'it will not be possible for you to work again as a priest in this diocese'.

A church report that month stated: 'He [Crowley] does not fit into the usual psychological profile of a true paedophile. The behaviour would not be too alarming in an early adolescent boy. In an adult [33 years old] who has a sacred trust and is a member of the clergy it is of course enormously serious and utterly inappropriate and a bar to his practising his priesthood. He has already been told that there is no possibility of his ever functioning as a priest in the diocese of Leeds.'

A later report concluded that although he behaved in a 'grossly unsuitable way, he is not a paedophile'. It said his behaviour was primarily caused by the misuse of alcohol and 'emotional immaturity'.

Rather than report the incident to the police, Konstant, who had suspended Crowley, sent him for 'counselling'. Within a few months Konstant helped Crowley to find a new post in Devon. He was made to sign a contract to restrict his contact with young people, but went on to abuse in Torquay and Barnstaple. Even though concerns were raised about his continued contact with young boys in the south of England, he was allowed to return to Yorkshire - despite Konstant's earlier pledge that he would never again work as a priest in the diocese of Leeds - and entered into another period of sexual abuse.

Paul (not his real name) was among Crowley's victims when the priest returned to Yorkshire. He was raped by Crowley as a 10-year-old altar boy. Over four years from 1991, Paul was subject to frequent sexual abuse by the priest who got other boys to perform sex acts on him. 'He wouldn't care what was happening,' Paul said. 'Even if there was a funeral taking place or a wedding, he would wait for his opportunity. Sometimes he would be very aggressive, pushing me down on the floor and assaulting me.'

Paul only went to the police in 2004 after he had plucked up the courage to tell his family. By then, Crowley was in prison. He had been arrested while working as a hospital chaplain in Bradford and was jailed in 1998 for nine years after admitting a string of sex attacks on young boys over an 11-year period. He pleaded guilty to 12 offences of indecent assault on boys under 16 and three of indecency with a child. In prison Crowley admitted to the police that he had abused Paul, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was no public interest in staging another trial.

Paul is now taking legal action against Konstant and the diocese for negligence, but they are refusing to admit liability. The church argues that at the time there were 'no allegations of paedophilic activity' made against Crowley and they took appropriate steps. Lawyers for the trustees of the diocese claim the events happened too long ago and they have been advised that Konstant is extremely ill and unable to assist. This is challenged by Paul and his lawyers who say Konstant has been involved in a number of public activities since retiring. Konstant, 76, suffered a minor stroke in 2001, but continued working as Bishop of Leeds until 2004. In July this year he received an honorary degree from the University of Bradford, where he made a speech and attended a dinner.

An academic present at the dinner has said in a witness statement: 'He appeared to have no problems in speaking or walking around. There was no visible indication he was suffering from any form of illness or infirmity.' In October, Konstant presided at a celebratory Mass to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of St Joseph's church in Wetherby and last month he spoke at the reopening of the cathedral church of St Anne in Leeds. However, illness recently prevented him attending a special Mass for his successor as Bishop of Leeds.

Paul is furious at how the church has behaved as he has attempted to get justice and an apology. Two years ago he attempted suicide. 'The physical side of this was terrible,' he said, 'but the way the church has behaved since I decided to come forward has been even worse. It has been a kind of excruciating mental torture. Why don't they just say sorry and offer to help me and my family? They knew this priest was a danger to children but did nothing, and he went on to destroy the lives of dozens of boys, including my own.'

Paul's lawyer, Richard Scorer of Pannone, a Manchester law firm, said: 'Considering all the public engagements Bishop Konstant has been involved in over the past few months, I was astonished when they told me he was too ill to assist the court.'

The Observer tried to contact Konstant, but he refused to talk on the phone or be interviewed. He said: 'I have nothing to say about this. I am retired.'

A spokesman for the diocese of Leeds said: 'Neither Bishop David Konstant, nor the diocese of Leeds, has been asked whether the bishop's state of health prevented him responding to questions about this litigation. The suggestion that his health had become an issue has come as a complete surprise both to the bishop and to his successor, Arthur Roche.

'The Crowley case dates back to the Eighties and Nineties. The diocese reported the matter to the police when it first became aware of the allegations.'

This is not the first time the diocese has been involved in a sex abuse scandal. Earlier this year, The Observer reported how it had covered up the criminal past of paedophile priest, Neil Gallanagh, and gave him a job in a school for deaf children, where he went on to sexually assault vulnerable young boys.