Fr O’Brien had a conviction for indecency with a child in New Zealand in 1976. Originally from Ireland, he subsequently returned to the UK and spent five years in the diocese of Brentwood.
In 1981 he became chaplain at the Carmelite convent at Quidenham until September 1984 when he moved to a similar position with the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Felixstowe.
The Diocese of East Anglia was unaware of his conviction when he first moved here and he played a role in the two parishes.
Bishop of East Anglia at that time, Rt Rev Alan Clark, however, declined to incardinate Fr O’Brien formally as a priest into the diocese because of his contentious style of ministry and he left the area in 1985.
In 1999, after he retired, Fr O’Brien returned to live in Wymondham
In 2000, when Fr O’Brien wanted to become more involved in parish work, a Police check was carried out and as part of that process, O’Brien voluntarily disclosed his 1976 conviction in New Zealand. As a result of that disclosure, measures were taken to restrict his ministry.
The current Bishop of East Anglia, Rt Rev Alan Hopes, said: “Although never formally a priest of the diocese, Fr O’Brien would undoubtedly have been involved in the parishes in which he lived. When his conviction was disclosed in 2000, steps were taken to restrict his ministry.
“It is fair to say that by the more rigorous standards of safeguarding which we rightly follow today, more should have been done to ascertain his history and he should not have been in any form of public ministry.
“Under the national safeguarding procedures introduced in 2001, where a priest asks to be transferred from one diocese to another, formal undertakings have to be given by the Bishop that the priest is of good standing before such a move can take place.”
Bishop Alan said: “The safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is of paramount importance to the Catholic Church and this Diocese. There are robust national safeguarding procedures in place and we always follow-up any complaint and co-operate fully with any Police investigation.”