The Church of England diocese that includes Brighton and Hove has been criticised in an official report – as has the recently retired Bishop of Chichester.
The report was commissioned by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to investigate repeated failures to protect children in the area from paedophile priests.
The archbishop said that his office would oversee child protection for the foreseeable future in the diocese of Chichester which has its head office in Hove.
The archbishop’s staff will also take over responsibility for decisions about the appointment of clergy, deciding who has “permission to officiate”.
He said: “There have been many and longstanding failures in implementing a robust and credible safeguarding policy in the diocese of Chichester.
“The flaws in safeguarding practice have put children and others at risk.
“In the last couple of years much has been done to improve the situation but there remain several areas of concern.”
The official report by the retired Bishop of Chelmsford John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell criticised the recently retired Bishop of Chichester John Hind.
It described the diocese as dysfunctional and said that the way that the church was run in Sussex needed to change.
The report said: “We were deeply concerned to be told by the outgoing diocesan bishop, speaking of the year 2010, that the diocese was ‘dysfunctional’, a description with which others within the senior team have agreed either expressly or by implication.
“Moreover, we have no doubt that this dysfunctionality continues to impinge upon the adequacy of safeguarding within the diocese.
“In our view the combination of the change of person and approach of the last bishop from his predecessor (whose long episcopate had profoundly shaped the diocesan culture), the dysfunctionality that subsequently arose within the diocese as a whole, and the breakdown of relationships with the safeguarding group have together proved to be disastrous.”
The newly appointed Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, said: “I am deeply grateful to the commissaries for their work in producing such a detailed, honest and wide-ranging analysis of the current situation concerning safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester.
“I have not yet officially begun my work as diocesan bishop and so, in many respects, their report comes at an apposite time as the diocese also looks forward to a new phase in its ministry and mission.
“This interim report reinforces for all who read it how the damage caused to each survivor is unique and intensely personal. Let us never forget that.
“Nor can we ever imagine that words of apology, deep and sincere though they might be, take away the damage and wicked shamefulness that survivors of abuse carry as a destructive burden.
“I am particularly grateful to the commissaries for their suggestion that I meet with all known survivors of abuse and will seek to do this as soon as my public ministry begins.
“It is very clear that there is absolute determination in the diocese of Chichester that we should engage fully and seriously with the recommendations that relate to us locally.
“This builds on the request by my predecessor, Bishop John Hind, for the archbishop to undertake a formal visitation.
“We shall also be resolute in drawing to the attention of the national church those recommendations that arise out of this visitation and that affect us institutionally at national level as the Church of England.
“In particular, we welcome the recommendation that complete transparency is needed concerning any abuse that has already taken place.
“Although it is as yet too soon to outline any strategy for our response to the report’s recommendations, I would like to draw particular attention to the following issues that the commissaries raise
- We will aim to address head on what this report describes as disastrous ‘dysfunctionality’ resulting partly from ‘cultural variations’ in different parts of the diocese. We shall ensure that our diocesan-wide policy of safeguarding is implemented rigorously and evenly across the diocese in all aspects of our life.
- The observation that the new Bishop of Chichester must exercise episcopal ministry across the whole diocese is apposite and helpful. Such an understanding of leadership and responsibility must not dilute the value of collaboration between bishops, priests, deacons and laity: that is essential. But the commissaries’ observation clearly indicates that ‘a radical change of culture in the Diocese’ will only come about through radical changes in our structures. We must address that challenge urgently.
- The report refers to the effective use of resources for achieving the level of safeguarding properly expected by all, concluding that ‘the history of safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester has fallen woefully short of what should be expected of any institution with a ministry and care for young people and children’. It goes on to call for more resources and the better use of already available material and practices to avoid reinventing the wheel. We shall seek to respond to this and to build in to our implementation a process of ongoing review.
- This report also poses challenges for the church nationally and I will be raising these with my fellow bishops. We need to ask whether our provision and are our national structures are sufficient to deliver the standards of action that our statutory and voluntary partners rightly expect of us in the arena of safeguarding?
“Since my appointment as bishop earlier this year I have heard, time and again, that the diocese has been buffeted by a seemingly never-ending saga of episodes that have, in the minds of some, called into question our ability to act decisively in response to instances of abuse.
“Together with all who exercise the responsibility for leadership, we shall work across the diocese of Chichester to ensure that we are able to act, and seen to do so, whenever the issue of a child’s protection is at stake.
“This will be fundamental to building trust in our working relationships with statutory and voluntary partners.
“We have much to learn from all that has happened and must be humble in doing so, accepting our failures, responding with honesty and penitence, and demonstrating proper and appropriate engagement with those who are the victims of criminal and sub-Christian behaviour.
“But the future of the diocese cannot be determined by the failures of the past.
“Review and vigilance will be required of us at all times in the matter of safety and welfare for those who are young and vulnerable.
“This is vital if we are to recognise and sustain the invaluable contribution that Christians in the diocese of Chichester make to enriching the lives of children and young people in many important and hugely valuable ways.
“We are determined that this is a diocese in which the vulnerable will feel safe and will be safe.
“A new era has begun. I welcome the commissaries’ initial report as a mandate and encouragement for its growth.”
The report’s authors said: “The history of safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester has in the past fallen woefully short of what should be expected of any institution with a ministry and care for children and young people.
“It has been particularly distressing to us to have met people whose lives have been deeply wounded by the abuse they have suffered at the hands of clergy and of lay people holding positions of responsibility in the church.
“Sadly, these wounds often refuse to heal. Even when they do heal scars remains as evidence of the awfulness of what happened to them.
“However deep and sincere the apologies are for such abuse by the ministers of the church, they cannot take away from the wickedness and shamefulness of what has happened to those who were abused.”
The report said that the Church of England locally had “an appalling history in these matters” and added: “It is clear to us that many lives have been blighted.
“Some have sought justice through the courts of law.
“Clergy have gone to prison for their abuse of children.
“We are clear that those who have sought justice through the courts are but the tip of the iceberg.
“We have also encountered, and heard, of the many whose stories are entirely believable but who (for whatever reason) have not been able to find justice through such public means.
“All of this is made worse by the reality that the authorities in the diocese were very slow to recognise what was happening and did not act with the rigour and expedition vital to all safeguarding work.
“A whole series of investigations and reports across nearly two decades bears witness to a profoundly unhelpful and negative culture in parts of the diocese that led to its failure to take the action needed.”
The report also said: “Since our appointment and engagement with this story, fresh and disturbing aspects of the diocese’s safeguarding failures keep rising to the surface.
“Insufficient action has taken place following the Historic Cases Review.
“Fresh allegations have been made and are being pursued by the relevant authorities and new people are coming forward to tell the sad story of their own abuse at the hands of clergy and other people in positions of authority in the church.
“It is clear that the church in this diocese has lost the respect of many of those in the public services who carry duties in law to ensure proper safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.
“Our appointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury – the first such appointment of commissaries for over 100 years – is evidence of the deep concern held in the Church of England for this diocese and its failure properly to protect children in its care.”
The report’s authors, who were appointed last December, said that vigilance was vital because the church was “a fallible institution made up of fallible human beings”.
They said that they were “concerned about the level of resources provided” to ensure proper safeguarding processes.
And they added: “The crisis within the diocese still requires extra resources as it seeks to complete the journey from the past into an acceptable future in these matters.
“The single safeguarding officer is being severely stretched.”
The report called for “a radical change of culture in the diocese” and included 32 recommendations.
To read the interim report click here.