St Mary's Cathedral
© Mark Pink/Alamy
St Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle.
The Vatican is investigating rumours of a "sex party" at a British cathedral which is alleged to have happened during lockdown.

As part of an investigation into the circumstances of Robert Byrne's resignation as the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Catholic church is looking into claims one of his priests invited worshippers to a private party at his lodgings.

Multiple people are said to have complained that Father Michael McCoy, dean of Newcastle Cathedral, approached them to attend a party at a time when gatherings were not permitted.

A diocese source told the Sunday Times said: "A number of complaints were made by individuals within the diocese after information came to light about a sex party taking place in the priests' living quarters attached to Newcastle Cathedral."

McCoy, 57, killed himself in April 2021 four days after finding out he was subject to an investigation by Northumbria police's child and adult protection department for child sexual abuse.

He had been appointed by Byrne in 2019, replacing the popular Father Dermott Donnelly, the older brother of TV presenter Declan Donnelly. Father Donnelly has since died after an illness in July 2022.

While there is no suggestion Byrne attended the party, he resigned as bishop in December, telling worshippers his office "has become too great a burden".

In a letter to clergy, which he read in St Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle, he said: "My own discernment has caused me to recognise that I now feel unable to continue serving the people of the diocese in the way that I would wish."

He was appointed in 2019, after previously serving as an auxiliary in the archdiocese of Birmingham and as provost of the Oxford Oratory from 1993 to 2011.

In a letter seen by the Sunday Times, the archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon who is running the diocese until Byrne's successor is appointed and is leading the investigation into his resignation, said he has been asked by the pope's advisers to prepare "an in-depth report into the events leading up to Bishop Byrne's resignation".

The Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) last week began an "unscheduled safeguarding audit" at the diocese.

Steve Ashley, the CSSA chief executive officer said the body was independent and had "full autonomy". He said: "The scope of the investigatory work will cover any reported abuses, alleged abuses, safeguarding concerns and the culture of safeguarding in the diocese as a whole."

The former chief prosecutor for the north-west of England, Nazir Afzal, chair of the CSSA, added: "There should be no doubt that we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to keeping people safe, and this includes investigating the safeguarding culture in Hexham and Newcastle."

The diocese said it voluntarily referred itself to the CSSA and the Charities Commission and it would "continue to work productively and swiftly with both organisations, learning where it needs to, not from rumours and misinformation, but from the facts and evidence provided".

It added that it "remains fully committed to safeguarding as an integral part of the life and the ministry of the church".