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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Anglican Church Case Studies: Chichester/Peter Ball Investigation Report

B.7: The Archepiscopal Visitation

Establishment of the Visitation

305. On 6 December 2011, in his capacity as Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, Mr Colin Perkins wrote to Archbishop Rowan Williams. He expressed his concern that the behaviour of Bishop Wallace Benn posed a risk to good safeguarding practice. Despite the concerns identified by Lady Butler-Sloss, no formal steps had been taken by the Diocese to address the issue. Mr Perkins urged the Archbishop to organise “decisive and forthright action” to manage safeguarding risks and implement the necessary changes.[1]

306. Relationships between senior clergy and staff had seriously deteriorated. Bishop John Hind recalled the bitterness between Mrs Shirley Hosgood and Bishop Benn, noting that “on one occasion Bishop Benn said of Shirley Hosgood, ‘I hate her,’ and she said of him, ‘I’m going to get him’”.[2] Bishop Hind found himself in a state of paralysis, unable to support either party in this “irreconcilable dispute” without damaging his own relationships with them.

307. The Archbishops’ Council has acknowledged that amongst this mutual recrimination, the urgent need to support survivors seemed “almost to have been lost from view”.[3] A breakdown in effective communication, coupled with mounting unease about the operation of safeguarding arrangements, led Archbishop Williams to determine that “intervention of a drastic kind” was required.[4] The Butler-Sloss report pointed to a negative culture in the Diocese, along with an unwillingness to effectively communicate concerns to the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser in respect of non-recent abuse.

308. On 21 December 2011, the Archbishop directed that an Archepiscopal Visitation should take place in the Diocese of Chichester.[5] This would suspend “the functioning of a subsidiary authority so as to take direct responsibility for what is going on”.[6] It was the first time a Visitation had occurred in the Church of England for more than a century.

309. However, the use of a Visitation highlights the limits to Archepiscopal authority. It is currently the only legal course available to an archbishop who seeks to intervene in a diocese. It can transfer authority to the archbishop, who can then decide who is to exercise that power. However, it may not be possible to do this quickly or effectively. The Inquiry wishes to consider further if other interventions need to be available.

310. Whilst a Visitation may be valuable in some circumstances, it did not have the power to resolve safeguarding problems. At that time there was no mechanism to suspend a bishop who had not been arrested for sexual offences. There was similarly no mechanism to ensure compliance with safeguarding, other than the full panoply of a Clergy Discipline Measure complaint.

311. The Archbishop appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Canon Dr Rupert Bursell QC as his Commissaries for the Visitation. At that time, Bishop Gladwin was a retired Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of St Albans. He had also recently been appointed Chair of the National Board of the Citizens Advice Bureau, and was responsible for ensuring compliance with relevant safeguarding laws and practice across that organisation.[7] Canon Dr Bursell QC was a retired senior circuit judge. He was also the Diocesan Chancellor and Vicar General of the Diocese of Durham, who provided legal advice to that Diocese.[8]

312. The Commissaries’ main task was to consider the progress made in the implementation of the diocesan and national safeguarding guidelines by the Diocese of Chichester. They would also explore the action taken in response to the recommendations made by Lady Butler-Sloss, before making “such further recommendations as may appear necessary and expedient”.[9]

Conduct of the Visitation

313. Although the Archbishop was formally responsible for safeguarding during the course of the Visitation, he delegated its day-to-day operation in the Diocese to Bishop Hind. When the bishop retired from post in February 2012, the role was temporarily transferred to Bishop Mark Sowerby, the Bishop of Horsham. He became acting Bishop of Chichester pending the appointment of a new diocesan bishop. He was required to inform the Provincial Registrar (legal adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury) of all proposed appointments, along with all decisions to withdraw permission to officiate from those clergy who did not hold a current CRB check.[10]

314. The Commissaries interviewed a variety of individuals. These included senior diocesan clergy, representatives of MACSAS and several victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.[11] They attended the office of the diocesan bishop and examined the blue files, along with relevant policy documents and previous safeguarding reviews.

315. On 30 August 2012, the Commissaries published an interim report of their findings. The Commissaries considered that an interim report was necessary as a new diocesan bishop was soon to be appointed, who “should not be wrong-footed in any way”.[12] The interim report contained 32 recommendations for the Diocese and 12 recommendations for the Church of England as a whole. A final report was published on 26 April 2013 which clarified some of the recommendations.

Difficulties encountered during the Visitation

Correspondence between East Sussex County Council and Lambeth Palace

316. On 30 January 2012, the Director of Children’s Services and Chair of the Children’s Safeguarding Board at East Sussex County Council[13] wrote to the Archbishop. They sought to clarify several issues regarding the Visitation process including its scope, timescale and the means by which they should communicate their views to the Commissaries. In light of the safeguarding concerns raised about Bishop Benn, they also queried whether action had been taken to ensure that the welfare of children was being adequately protected.

317. In a brief response on behalf of the Archbishop, Mr Chris Smith, his then Chief of Staff, declined to answer the queries but offered the Council an opportunity to meet with the Commissaries.[14] Three months passed before this meeting took place, after which the Council again wrote to the Archbishop. The letter expressed the belief that “insufficient attention is being paid to the ongoing and immediate safeguarding of children in Sussex”.[15] It also stated that Bishop Benn continued his involvement with local schools and clergy appointment panels, despite “widespread misgivings” about his professional judgement. The Diocese of Chichester and the Church of England had clearly lost the confidence of social services by this stage.

The Clergy Discipline Measure

318. The Archbishop conceded that the Council’s letter “deserved a fuller response than it had”. At that time, he was attempting to persuade Bishop Benn to retire voluntarily. He explained the circumstances in which a bishop could be suspended were “very, very, very tightly circumscribed and not quite as simple as the correspondence thought”.[16]

319. He acknowledged that he could have initiated a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), which may have resulted in the suspension of Bishop Benn. However, the Archbishop chose not to pursue this route because “the procedures are quite lengthy … I wasn’t convinced that initiating something from Lambeth along the lines of a CDM would be the most effective and rapid way of dealing with this”.[17]

320. The Clergy Discipline Measure was a long-winded process, involving two stages of internal assessment before being passed to a Disciplinary Tribunal. It was not capable of managing safeguarding risks where decisions needed to be made promptly. At the time of the Visitation, an individual could not be suspended from office by the archbishop or bishop if allegations were made against them under the Clergy Discipline Measure, unless they had been arrested or a formal complaint had been laid which was not dismissed.[18] This provision failed to deal with situations where the issue was not one of discipline, but of competence and ability to understand the realities of safeguarding practice.

321. In addition, at that time,[19] disciplinary proceedings could not be instituted more than 12 months after the date of misconduct without permission from the President of the Clergy Discipline Tribunal.[20] It is regrettable that the Church did not take steps to abolish this rule prior to the Visitation in respect of safeguarding allegations. The imposition of a time limit, particularly a short one, displayed a serious lack of understanding of the psychology of trauma. It failed to acknowledge that most people would not report child sexual abuse until they were much older.

322. The Archbishop had no power to force Bishop Benn’s resignation. The bishop eventually retired in October 2012, but this was “not because the Archbishop’s Commissaries had made any pronouncement on the subject of his conduct”.[21] Although archbishops are influential figures within the Church, they do not have any legal power to direct their bishops. Archbishop Justin Welby confirmed “diocesan bishops have a largely autonomous role … the Archbishop is not in direct control of the diocesan bishops in a management sense”.[22]

Bishop Wallace Benn’s correspondence with the Commissaries

323. In a meeting with the Commissaries on 7 June 2012, Bishop Benn and his lawyers sought to obtain a copy of the draft interim report. They relied on the Commissaries’ “duty to act fairly, since your role is formal and your report is capable of affecting the rights and public reputation of those to whom it might refer, including the Bishop of Lewes”.[23]

324. The Commissaries subsequently provided the bishop with an extract from their report, on which he was invited to make comments. He submitted a number of amendments before the report was sent to the archbishop, which focussed on factual accuracy and “the respects in which the extract continues to be written in a manner designed to reflect and protect Bishop John Hind’s position in the matter”.[24] The Commissaries agreed his amendments. There was an inference that without those amendments, legal action may have followed.[25]

325. Bishop Hind was not aware that Bishop Benn and his lawyers had seen a draft of the interim report, nor that they had been able to influence its eventual form. He was not afforded the same opportunity.

Findings of the Commissaries’ reports

326. In their interim report, the Commissaries concluded that safeguarding in the Diocese of Chichester had “fallen woefully short of what should be expected of any institution with a ministry and care for children and young people”.[26] They identified three central themes of concern which contributed to these failings.

Dysfunctional leadership

327. In 1984, Bishop Eric Kemp, the diosecan bishop of Chichester, established the area scheme[27] for the ministry of bishops. Under this scheme, Bishop Kemp delegated responsibilities for appointments and for permission to officiate to the two suffragan bishops of Horsham and Lewes. One of these, Bishop Sowerby explained the extent of these responsibilities as follows:[28]

I had responsibility for clergy recruitment to parishes in the Horsham Episcopal Area … whilst I consulted with Bishop John Hind before making appointments … I did exercise the bishop’s patronage. I was generally responsible for ensuring that incoming clergy had the necessary CRB or DBS checks, and that they were suitable for appointment. I was also responsible for seeking the necessary references.[29]

328. Each area therefore had significant autonomy, with the suffragan bishops largely running their own parts of the Diocese. Canon Ian Gibson went so far as to describe Bishop Benn as a “mini diocesan bishop”, as the number of parishes in his area almost equalled those in the whole of the Diocese of Leicester.[30]

329. The area scheme weakened the capacity of the diocesan bishop to ensure that a consistent and robust central policy was followed by all in respect of appointments and permission to officiate. It was an unusual scheme within the Church of England, and its structure made it vulnerable to misuse.

330. When Bishop Hind inherited the scheme, he discovered he had little or no powers over the areas in respect of appointments and permission to officiate. This made it almost impossible to maintain oversight of the Diocese and to impose authority where it was required. The Diocese was also geographically large. This meant that an area bishop may well have had more autonomy than in other, smaller areas.

331. By the early 1990s, Bishop Kemp had been the diocesan bishop for nearly 20 years. He was an elderly man whose views about leadership and safeguarding (on the basis of the evidence we heard from those who served under him) had fallen out of step with current practice. We recognise that the Diocese of Chichester is geographically diverse, and that spreading leadership responsibilities may relieve the burden on a diocesan bishop. However, this idea was taken too far during the tenure of Bishop Kemp.

332. The diocesan bishop should have kept adequate oversight of appointments, to ensure that safer recruitment practices were in place. This was part of his ultimate responsibility as the pastor of the Diocese. The area bishops enjoyed such a level of independence that by the time Bishop Hind was appointed, he found it “difficult to rein them in”.[31]

333. Bishop Lindsay Urwin was the Area Bishop of Horsham from 1993 to 2009. He said Bishop Hind had struggled with the “theological anomalies” within the Diocese. He was also critical of the frequency with which the three bishops met alone, without other senior staff present, and complained that this hindered communication and unity of purpose.

334. Bishop Hind accepted he failed to engage with the area of East Sussex as much as he should, recalling his own “sense of powerlessness in being unable to relate effectively with Bishop Benn”.[32] By the time of his appointment, Bishop Benn had already been the Area Bishop of Lewes for 10 years. The distinct clash of personalities between these two individuals exacerbated the problem.

335. As a result, there was no central oversight of the appointment of clergy within the Diocese of Chichester. No policies existed to ensure the central retention of files. Decisions were not made and leadership in respect of safeguarding was not effective because relationships were poor. As the Archbishops’ Council itself conceded:

The lack of definition of roles and responsibilities, and uncertainties about accountability brought about by the Area Scheme, contributed to a chaotic and unsatisfactory safeguarding environment.[33]

336. For a significant period of time in 2010 and 2011, the focus and energy of the senior diocesan team was on the lengthy internal dispute with Bishop Benn regarding the Meekings report. In the meantime, the need to implement the recommendations of the report was deferred. As Bishop Benn himself admitted, “it was a rabbit in the headlights moment for about two years”.[34]

337. In their interim report, the Commissaries stated they had “no doubt that this dysfunctionality continues to impinge upon the adequacy of safeguarding within the Diocese”.[35] Canon Gibson disagreed with the suggestion that the senior team was dysfunctional; it “worked very efficiently … the only dysfunctional element was the relationship between Bishop Hind and Bishop Benn”.[36] Bishop Sowerby concurred that “notwithstanding the real problems that did exist, the senior staff were working collaboratively and in a healthy fashion in much of their day-to-day work”.[37]

338. There is no evidence pointing to a breakdown of confidence between the wider senior team. However, the dysfunctional relationship between some members led to a focus upon polarisation. It also created an excessive emphasis on trying to manage the dysfunction, rather than addressing critical safeguarding issues. An organisation cannot function effectively if its leaders’ relationships are characterised by mistrust. The Clergy Discipline Measure complaint against Bishop Benn was understandable, but ultimately caused more problems than it solved. It led to unnecessary time being spent on internal wrangling rather than action.

339. The interim report emphasised that the dysfunctionality within the senior team must be urgently addressed. It specifically recommended that “the area scheme should be reconsidered and the senior team must function as a team throughout the diocese. The diocesan bishop should not have a discrete area of his own”.[38] The area scheme was indeed revised shortly after this point.

Disorder in safeguarding

340. The Commissaries found that the Diocese was very slow to address allegations of sexual abuse. It failed to react to reports of misbehaviour by individuals who were subsequently convicted of child sexual abuse.[39] Although some clergy files contained details of past allegations, those clergy continued to minister in the Diocese and hold senior roles. The Commissaries found that Rideout, for example, was permitted to remain as Chair of Governors at the Bishop Bell School despite having been investigated previously for child sexual abuse.[40]

341. The finding in the interim report that the Diocese failed to react with “rigour and expedition” was based on the fact that neither the recommendations of the Past Cases Review nor the Butler-Sloss report had been implemented.[41] The Butler-Sloss report recommended that all letters to victims and survivors should be personally addressed and signed by the diocesan bishop. However, the Commissaries concluded that the letters of apology sent to victims and survivors of Roy Cotton were “insufficient in their actual content and crass in their presentation”.[42] The Archbishops’ Council has accepted that letters to victims were “unduly defensive, and dominated by the approach and language of litigation”.[43] They were signed not by Bishop Hind but by Bishop Sowerby on his behalf. Had the focus been more on acting upon the recommendations and less on internal squabbles, this might not have happened.

342. The importance of an appropriate response to victims and survivors cannot be underestimated. It was vital the Church sought to provide adequate redress in circumstances where it had manifestly failed to protect individuals from a predatory paedophile. Mr Johnson had already been let down by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Church. The very least that could be done was to face responsibility for the mistakes of the past.

343. The Butler-Sloss report also recommended that clergy should have regular safeguarding training. The Commissaries found that the very idea of such training was not clearly understood within the Diocese and that a number of clergy were resistant to it.[44] The Social Care Institute for Excellence’s independent safeguarding audits indicate that this was a common problem across many dioceses even in 2016 and 2017.[45] Canon Dr Bursell QC said such training “was only then in its infancy and was not being followed through with any apparent urgency”.[46]

344. A radical change of culture was needed in which safeguarding was placed at the top of the diocesan agenda. The infighting prevented the presentation of a united front to all clergy which identified that safeguarding was of central importance. It is imperative that such a culture of safeguarding is embedded throughout the Church of England.

345. The Commissaries also considered the wider context of the national Church. In one diocese, the safeguarding adviser was the diocesan secretary who had no experience in safeguarding. In another, the diocesan bishop had expressed a view that the safeguarding of vulnerable adults was too politically correct.[47] The Commissaries recognised that this damaging mindset could only be remedied by regular safeguarding training.

346. Sir Roger Singleton is a safeguarding consultant and member of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Panel. Some five years after the final report of the Commissaries, he also identified the need for cultural change. Positive affirmations of the importance of safeguarding are “insufficient … the concept of leadership should extend more widely to all clergy because it is in parishes and local church activities where children require most protection”. Clergy should be the leaders of safeguarding. As Sir Roger identified, this change can be achieved through improved training and effective monitoring by diocesan bishops to ensure compliance with all safeguarding requirements. Archdeacons may contribute to this monitoring process through their annual Visitation to the parishes.[48] We discuss the issue of cultural change further below.

Lack of national safeguarding resources

347. According to the interim report of the Commissaries, the failure of the Diocese to implement all the recommendations of the Butler-Sloss report was, in part, due to the absence of human and financial resources. Mr Perkins was under-resourced and overburdened as the sole safeguarding officer. The Commissaries referred to the “overworked part-time office” of the Church of England. It had been unable to update protocols or create safeguarding policies due to a lack of time.[49] As National Safeguarding Adviser at this time, Mrs Elizabeth Hall said “the resources and support available to me were not sufficient … although I was contracted to work 35 hours a week, I regularly worked 60 hours a week”.[50]

348. The report recommended that clear policies be introduced at a national level. It specified that “more resources, both in personnel and monies, must be provided for safeguarding”.[51] The Diocese of Chichester, like all other dioceses at that time, operated without consistent support from any national body. In recent years, the Church has acted sensibly in devoting significantly more resources to the development of a National Safeguarding Team. This provides central resources, guidance and a set of standardised training for all.

Response of the Diocese and National Church Institutions to the Visitation reports

349. As Mr Graham Tilby observed, the publication of the final Visitation report was a watershed moment for safeguarding in the Church of England. Lord Williams described it as a “wake-up call”, with the Church being forced to acknowledge its continued failures to protect children and young people.[52] Since 2012, there has been an acceleration of safeguarding initiatives at both a diocesan and national level, galvanised by the findings of the Archepiscopal Visitation.

350. In 2013, the Diocese of Chichester produced a Safeguarding Strategy Plan.[53] This incorporated responses to all the recommendations made by the Visitation reports. In May 2013, final approval for the revocation of the Area Scheme was given by the Diocesan Synod. The diocesan bishop is now able to exercise authority over the whole geographic area of the Diocese. The revocation of this scheme was undoubtedly required to improve the quality of governance and leadership.

351. In the same year, the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 was amended in direct response to concerns raised during the Visitation. A bishop’s powers to remove a cleric from office were extended.[54] Previously, the Measure permitted a bishop to impose a penalty only where the court had passed a sentence of imprisonment. This meant that individuals convicted of serious criminal misconduct, such as downloading child pornography, were able to avoid automatic removal from office if they were not sentenced to custody. Following the amendment, a bishop is now able to impose a penalty following conviction for all serious offences, including those resulting in non-custodial sentences.

352. The 2013 Measure also enables a bishop to remove from office a priest or deacon who has been included in a ‘barred list’ operated by the Disclosure and Barring Service. Automatic removal was not permitted under the 2003 Measure. Both of these amendments were overdue. The Church failed to recognise and respond speedily to relevant changes in law, including those introduced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Vulnerable Safeguarding Groups Act 2006.

353. In 2016, further amendments to the Clergy Discipline Measure enhanced the Church’s ability to deal with complaints of abuse. The one-year limitation period for disciplinary proceedings against clergy accused of sexual misconduct with children was removed, so that permission to make a complaint out of time is no longer required.[55] This is welcome and necessary.

354. The interim report recommended that bishops be given the power to suspend any cleric who was the subject of a credible safeguarding allegation, until all investigations and proceedings had run their course.[56] This was implemented by the 2016 Measure. A bishop can now suspend a cleric where he is satisfied that the cleric presents a significant risk of harm. It can be imposed before an arrest is made or before any formal complaint has been started under the Clergy Discipline Measure.[57] This is another welcome development, although its necessity should have been obvious well before the Visitation report.

355. We have serious concerns about whether the Clergy Discipline Measure, even as amended, provides effective disciplinary action in safeguarding cases. Archbishop Welby criticised the length of the process, along with the absence of any intermediate procedural step to enable earlier resolution of complaints. He suggested that a more independent process would enable the bishop to maintain a pastoral role and to “serve truth and justice more properly”.[58]

356. There needs to be a more appropriate range of interventions with which to address concerns about capability, risk, and past and present failures. The early steps being taken by the Church to build a capability procedure for clergy must ensure that safeguarding is included. In late 2017, Archbishop Welby commissioned a review of the Clergy Discipline Measure process. The review included the approach to safeguarding complaints. The National Safeguarding Team undertook a consultation to obtain views on safeguarding changes that could be made. The outcome of the consultation was presented to the April 2018 National Safeguarding Steering Group meeting.[59] At the hearings in July 2019, we intend to hear more about the common tenure regime and the ministerial development review system.

357. There are other limitations. Mrs Elizabeth Hall was the Joint Safeguarding Adviser for the Church of England and the Methodist Church between 2010 and 2014. She agreed that the current Clergy Discipline Measure should be revised “so that it can respond to risk, and not only to proven past misbehaviour”.[60] Mr Perkins also pointed out that a cleric cannot be disciplined under the Measure in relation to conduct that occurred pre-ordination, even if a risk assessment concludes that the cleric poses a risk to children.

358. The absence of any relevant provision creates challenges for those involved in managing responses to such allegations. The Church should consider making amendments so that suspension and discipline can take place in both these circumstances, as it seeks to improve its safeguarding practices.[61] We wish to hear further in July 2019 about whether amendments are needed to the Clergy Discipline Measure to address the issue.

359. We have a number of other concerns as to how the Clergy Discipline Measure currently operates in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse. Once a complaint is made, a preliminary enquiry takes place. The complaint will proceed only if the issues raised are “not trivial but justify further serious consideration”.[62]

References

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