A CATHOLIC priest suspended from his post at a Darlington church has been charged with abusing two schoolboys, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Father Michael Higginbottom will appear in court next month to face allegations that he assaulted the boys while working at St Joseph’s College, in Upholland, near Wigan, in the late 1970s.

Lancashire Constabulary said in a statement issued to the Echo last night: "Following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Higginbottom, 72, of West Farm Road, Newcastle, was charged on Monday, February 8 with six offences relating to non-recent sexual abuse.

"The offences were allegedly committed while Mr Higginbottom was working as a Catholic priest at St Joseph’s College in Upholland in the late 1970s."

The college, which has since closed, was a Catholic junior and senior seminary for boys aged between 12 and 16 who were considering a vocation as a Catholic priest.

St Joseph`s was a boarding school and all boys who attended would live and study at the college.

Police said Fr Higginbottom had been charged with six offences relating to two male victims both aged under 16 at the time.

The charges are four counts of indecent assault and two counts of buggery.

They are all alleged to have occurred at St Joseph’s between September 1, 1978 and December 31, 1979.

The priest has been bailed to appear before Ormskirk Magistrates’ Court on March 15.

Fr Higginbottom was suspended from his post at St Augustine's Church, in Darlington, in December 2004.

Parishioners were not told at the time why the priest had left, however an investigation by The Northern Echo later revealed that his suspension followed allegations of sexual assault against children.

It is understood he was interviewed by police at the time but never charged with any offences.