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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Anglican Church Case Studies: Chichester/Peter Ball Investigation Report

B.11: Culture of the Church

Approaches to sexual orientation and influence on responses to allegations of sexual abuse

461. A recurring theme of the Carmi review in 2004 was Chichester Cathedral’s failure to respond appropriately to safeguarding concerns. In her examination of the possible reasons for this failure, Mrs Edina Carmi considered the complex views held within the Church at that time in relation to homosexuality. She concluded that “there is a need to address the confusion between homosexuality and child abuse that arises partly from the lack of openness about sexuality within the Church. This is part of a wider national issue that the Church has to address about sexuality”.[1]

462. Dame Moira Gibb also emphasised this in her review of the Peter Ball case 13 years later:

“The Church must promote an open and accepting culture in which everyone, regardless of their sexuality or their views about homosexuality, is clear about their responsibilities towards those who might be abused or who might want to raise concerns about abuse.”[2]

463. Attitudes to sexuality seem to have played a role in the Church’s deficient response to incidents of child sexual abuse. For example, Mrs Hind recalled being asked by Bishop Wallace Benn at their first meeting in 1997 to explain her views on homosexuality. She was “extremely surprised” by this question. She sought to explain that she was “concerned with the abuse of children and not the sexuality of the abuser”.[3]

464. Sexuality is a difficult subject for the Church. The Inquiry heard evidence to this effect from a number of senior figures including Bishop Martin Warner, who described a culture of fear amongst clergy insofar as discussions about sex were concerned. He acknowledged this fear may have prevented those in authority from challenging sexual abusers.[4]

465. As observed by Canon Peter Atkinson, such unease may also have resulted in the decision to respond pastorally without seeking help from external sources.[5] Lord Rowan Williams said:

“Where sexuality is not discussed or dealt with openly and honestly, there is always a risk of displacement of emotions, denial and evasion of emotions, and thus a lack of any way of dealing effectively with troubling, transgressive feelings and sometimes a dangerous spiritualising of sexual attraction under the guise of pastoral concern, with inadequate selfunderstanding.”[6]

466. Being gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual[7] was historically regarded as sinful by the Church of England. Prior to its decriminalisation in 1967, gay clergy were liable to prosecution and social exclusion.[8] As Reverend Dr Rosalind Hunt explained, it is no surprise that clergy who came of age prior to decriminalisation were often fearful and unable to come to terms with their sexuality.[9]

467. Sexuality is an issue which has been debated at great length within the Church over the last two decades. Archbishop Justin Welby remarked that “it feels as though we have spent twenty years talking about almost nothing else”.[10] According to Archbishop Welby, the Anglican Communion has for many years been opposed to the criminalisation of gay men and women. However, the Church’s view remains that sexual relations should take place only in marriage between a man and a woman. Bishop Benn stated that “God loves all sorts and conditions of people, whatever their sexual orientation, but the traditional Christian view is that God’s best for us is sexual relationships within heterosexual marriage”.[11]

468. It is no surprise that a culture of secrecy and denial was present amongst clergy who were LGBTQIA.[12] Bishop Warner told us that the late 19th century saw the development of an Anglo‑Catholic subculture, which offered a safe space for homosexual clergy and laity alike.[13] Mr Colin Perkins helpfully set out the hypothetical example of a gay priest, keen to follow his calling but reluctant to endure a life of celibacy. In the cultural context of Anglo‑Catholicism, this resulted in what Mr Perkins described as an “overt conservatism and a covert liberalism, which will generate a lot of secrecy”.[14]

469. However, homosexuals in the Church were not alone in this need for secrecy. It was shared by a minority of individuals with sinister intentions. We consider there to be merit in Mr Perkins’ suggestion that gay clergy may have inadvertently found themselves “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour by seeking refuge “in the same cultural hiding place”.[15] Reverend Hunt asserted that “the need to be discreet about one’s sexuality has enabled those who wish to abuse to do so with some impunity”.[16]

Confusion between homosexuality and child sexual abuse

470. It seems that within the Church of England, some people did conflate homosexuality with a tendency to abuse children. Although plainly wrong, this was a view shared widely in society until recent times. Bishop Warner recalled the “shocking” comments of the Bishop of Portsmouth in 1966, who sought permission for Roy Cotton to officiate in Chichester. In an effort to justify his request, the Bishop of Portsmouth made the irrelevant observation that Cotton was not homosexual and was engaged to be married.[17]

471. Archbishop Welby said he was familiar with the “concomitant assumption if someone is straight and pro women, then they aren’t a risk”. He correctly described such an assumption as “nonsense”.[18] As Bishop Warner pointed out, child sexual abuse has been committed by married men as well as unmarried men, and against girls as well as boys. Consequently, an allegation should never be discounted “on the basis of a pre‑determined view of the alleged perpetrator being of a particular sexual orientation or marital status and therefore unlikely to commit this crime”.[19]

472. This issue was also highlighted by Mrs Hind’s account of her conversation with Robert Coles on 11 March 1998. He had retired early from ministry after allegations of sexual abuse were made by a former altar boy. According to Mrs Hind’s record of their interview, Coles “agreed that he had had sexual activity with a boy of 15/16 … he saw the boy as an equal partner and didn’t think he had harmed him … Robert was concerned that he was being condemned for homosexual behaviour”.[20] In making these remarks, he conflated two discrete issues. Mrs Hind explained to him that the concerns related not to his homosexuality, but to his abuse of a child.[21]

473. In her report, Mrs Carmi found that Terence Banks’ abuse of boys was generally perceived by those in the Cathedral to be homosexual conduct rather than child abuse. She referred to Dean John Treadgold’s conversation with a parent at the time of Banks’ arrest, in which he is alleged to have stated that “the entire subject was made the more difficult by the House of Lords and Commons voting to bring down the age of consent for homosexual acts to sixteen”.[22]

474. Dean Treadgold apparently failed to appreciate that child abuse, rather than homosexuality, was the relevant concern in this case. Indeed, Canon Atkinson described him as “an old‑fashioned parish priest” who experienced “conflictedness over homosexuality and a tendency to abuse ... I think he regarded homosexual men as not safe in relation to other men or boys”.[23]

475. Moreover, one contributor to the Carmi review:

“did not suspect that abuse was occurring at the time, just that the boys’ sexuality was being converted for the future. This view, stemming from an intolerance of homosexuality, could not be expressed, but may have made the individual blind to the grooming process for abuse and any visible inappropriate behaviour”.[24]

476. The notion of calculated blindness was explored in some detail by Mrs Carmi in her report. She recounted her interview with an unnamed contributor, who recognised that his personal disapproval of homosexuality did not sit comfortably with modern societal norms. This unearthed an internal conflict which he had no desire to confront. He therefore reacted to the tension by refusing to acknowledge that homosexual activity existed. He avoided the issue altogether by erecting a mental barrier or, to use the common phrase, by turning a blind eye.[25]

477. When presented with the fact that Banks was having sex with boys, this contributor locked his knowledge away in what Mrs Carmi characterised as the “homosexual box”.[26] By fusing these two distinct behaviours, he failed to detect the serious abuse taking place.

478. The Carmi review summarised this process as “selective blindness towards behaviour caused by intolerance of homosexuality, but awareness that this was not acceptable and a consequent suspension of judgement to the behaviour of those perceived to be homosexuals”.[27] Canon Atkinson objected to this criticism, claiming it was not well‑evidenced. He denied that the Cathedral community was guilty of selective blindness.

479. However, we disagree. Mrs Carmi’s conclusion was a valid one. Clearly, the assumption that a gay man is likely to abuse a child is not only incorrect but dangerous. It ignores the reality, which is that sexual abuse can occur in a wide variety of contexts. As Bishop Warner said, “Any confusion between homosexual orientation and the abuse of children must be clearly identified, clarified and resisted”.[28]

480. This assumption creates a culture of fear and secrecy. Bishop Warner explained that it can also “deflect attention from other traditions in the belief that they are ‘safe’ when in fact we need to be uniformly vigilant about the care and protection of people who are vulnerable”.[29] For these reasons, it is important not to conflate same‑sex orientation and child sexual abuse. Selective blindness is a problem that can arise in any community, religious or otherwise, which is intolerant of homosexual acts and does not openly debate such matters.

481. A number of witnesses indicated there has been a striking change in climate over the last two decades. For instance, Lord Williams noted that “an environment in which, perhaps, thirty or forty years ago, clergy would have been afraid to talk openly about their sexuality if it was minority sexuality … that’s largely disappeared”.[30] The topic of clergy sexuality has been openly debated in Synod. It is also the subject of a proposed teaching document on sexuality and learning resources about human identity and sexuality. However, as Lord Williams commented, the Church’s growing discomfort with traditional closeted attitudes may have contributed to the reluctance of some individuals to deal appropriately with abuse.[31]

482. For example, Mrs Hind explained the anti‑homosexual views of Bishop Benn “made him bend over backwards to be fair, or perhaps even more than fair on occasion, to homosexual abusers”.[32] There is evidence to suggest that an embarrassment about homosexuality can on occasion be coupled with a desire to avoid taking a publicly severe approach. Lord Williams summarised this as “a rather paradoxical consequence of the traditional view of homosexuality within the Church; you want to overcompensate a bit for it”.[33] When AN‑A8 was asked whether the Church displayed a positive approach to sexuality, he replied “Neither at that time nor at the present time”.[34]

483. A common theme on cultural attitudes emerged from a number of witnesses, that the Church must focus on encouraging clear, open and transparent conversation regarding human sexuality.

The dynamics of communities

484. The Carmi review effectively illustrated the difficulties with safeguarding that can be created when institutions act defensively, by perceiving external influence as interference. This reflects a deeper cultural issue which, as Mrs Carmi identified, can be remedied by exercising “openness with others outside the community rather than a defensive barrier against all external interference”.[35] The Terence Banks case exemplifies this tendency.

485. In a community, there can be a tendency for members to be predisposed to think well of each other. Those equipped with a high status are most likely to be regarded as entirely trustworthy and incapable of committing an act of abuse. This perception requires deep‑seated cultural change. It must be recognised that the most common barrier to reporting is a failure to acknowledge that such individuals are capable of criminal behaviour.

486. In her report of the Peter Ball case, Dame Moira Gibb found that this confusion and denial “promoted the view that a person of Ball’s religious stature was incapable of truly abusive behaviour, so that the accusations against him must be misguided or malicious”.[36] Bishop Warner expressed a similar view in his evidence to this Inquiry:

“There had been an historic bias within the Diocese in favour of adults in positions of power and authority. This had led to an unwillingness to take allegations of sexual abuse made by children or by adults who had been abused as children sufficiently seriously.”[37]

487. A person’s social or professional status should play no part in determining their guilt or innocence. As Archbishop Welby observed:

“The fact that someone is a titanic figure doesn’t tell you anything at all, except that they have done remarkable things in one area ... it’s not something that we can take into account. Because otherwise, what are you saying? Well, you’re just a survivor of abuse, so you’re just a midget and this is a titan, so it doesn’t matter.”[38]

488. We agree that victims must be treated as being of equal value to the person who is accused of perpetrating their abuse.

‘Anti‑woman’ culture

489. In a letter to Mr Chris Smith on 25 May 2011, Lady Butler‑Sloss drew the Archbishop’s attention to an “anti‑woman culture” in the Diocese of Chichester.[39] She told us that she did not investigate this further, as it was outside her terms of reference, but she was made aware by several clergy and laymen that they considered that such a culture existed.[40]

490. Lord Williams agreed that misogyny may have impacted negatively upon the effectiveness of safeguarding. He viewed it as part of a wider mindset in which the authority of the ordained ministry was thought of as “beyond criticism, and in which a close‑knit male body of clergy tended to be protective of each other’s dignity and authority. Abusive behaviour is one extreme symptom of this mind‑set”.[41]

491. Bishop John Hind said that the opposition to the ordination of women cannot be equated with an ‘anti‑woman’ culture. However, he stated that he took steps during his tenure to ensure both genders were treated equally. For example, he proactively appointed the first two female diocesan secretaries so as to involve women in the senior leadership of the Diocese.[42] Nevertheless, Archdeacon Philip Jones acknowledged the Diocese was known as one “in which women clergy were not welcome”. He noted this culture has since changed, citing as an example the appointment of a female Archdeacon of Horsham in 2014.[43]

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