Church & Ministries

Archbishop of York and four bishops accused of failing to act over historic rape claims

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Reuters

The Archbishop of York and four bishops have been accused of misconduct by a Church of England priest who claims they failed to act on allegations that he was repeatedly raped by another vicar in 1984, when he was 16.

The Guardian reported that the anonymous priest filed the written and verbal complaints under the CofE’s clergy disciplinary measure (CDM) against John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York; Peter Burrows, the bishop of Doncaster; Steven Croft, a former bishop of Sheffield, and now bishop of Oxford; Martyn Snow, the bishop of Leicester; and Glyn Webster, the bishop of Beverley.

All five have contested the complaints on the grounds that they were made after a one-year time limit for complaints that is required by the church.

The priest, known only as ‘Michael’, has filed a misconduct complaint against the alleged rapist, who is currently the subject of a police investigation into Michael’s claims.

The alleged rapist, who continued to work as a CofE priest for at least a decade after the alleged offences, is now retired, though he is still licensed to officiate as a priest.

Spokespersons for Sentamu and the four bishops said they could not comment on a matter that was the subject of a police investigation and an internal church process.

Michael has also made a further complaint against Roy Williamson, a former bishop of Bradford, for failing to take action to bring the alleged perpetrator to justice at the time of the abuse.

A West Yorkshire police spokesperson confirmed to the Guardian that the force was investigating a report of a historical serious sexual offence and that a 69-year-old man had been interviewed.

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The new allegations come after claims that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, failed to act over sexual abuse in the 1980s by the former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball.

Ball was jailed last October, 22 years after the church became aware of allegations against him.

Tomorrow, the inquiry by Lady Goddard into child sex abuse will hold a preliminary hearing into the way the CofE has handled allegations of abuse by its clergy. Michael’s case will be put before the inquiry by his solicitor.

Michael first disclosed the alleged rapes to Burrows, the bishop of Doncaster, in July 2012 following a meeting about an unconnected child sex abuse allegation in Michael’s parish.

It was the first time in 28 years that he had told anyone about the repeated rapes he said he endured over a period of weeks as a teenager. He told the Guardian that he was silent because he feared he would not be believed and was ashamed.

Michael’s decision to come forward was sparked by a plea for help from the mother of two boys who said they were being abused by a member of staff at a CofE school. He told the Burrows that he believed abuse at the school was being covered up or ignored. He then told Burrows about the abuse he had himself suffered. “That bishop did nothing – nothing” Michael told the Guardian.

Michael subsequently told the other senior church figures about the alleged abuse, and reported the alleged crimes to the police.

In December 2012, he informed Croft, the bishop of Sheffield, about the alleged offences.

Then in February 2013 he repeated the disclosure to Croft and told Snow, who was then an archdeacon and is now the bishop of Leicester.

Soon after, Snow made a complaint against Michael – who had by now resigned as a vicar – for his failure to inform the diocese that he had given shelter for three nights to a newly released prisoner who had been convicted of child pornography offences and was on the sex offenders’ register.

In June 2013, Michael wrote to Croft, saying: “You will never know of the courage it took me to tell you both [Croft and Burrows] and you will never know of the hurt and stress it has caused me that you have both failed to support me in any way. It is obvious to me that … the abuse I suffered at the hands of a priest when I was a youngster [is] of no interest to you and sweeping it under the carpet or covering it up is much more important.”

The letter was copied to Sentamu, Burrows and Webster and only Sentamu acknowledged receipt with a four line response, saying he had read the letter. “Please be assured I will keep you in my prayers through this testing time for you,” Sentamu wrote.

At no point was Michael advised to report the alleged crimes.

A spokesperson for the Archbishop told the Guardian that Sentamu had simply acknowledged a copy of a letter addressed to someone else. “The original recipient of the letter had a duty to respond and not the archbishop,” the spokesperson said.

The Archbishop could not take any action “without consent,” the spokesperson added. “To do anything without their consent would be abusive.”

The Archbishop’s spokesperson told Christian Today that she was “not able to comment” about an ongoing police investigation.

Michael told the Guardian that “not one of them did anything to support me. Not one of them even said they were sorry it happened.”

In 2015, Michael formally reported the alleged rapes to the police and earlier this year instructed David Greenwood, a lawyer specialising in child abuse, to make a claim against the CofE.

He filed his formal CDM complaints in May.

Under the CDM procedure, complaints must be brought within a year of the alleged misconduct. Given that Michael’s complaints came after this period, the church must first rule on whether the complaints can be considered.

Sentamu and the four serving bishops have contested Michael’s request to make a complaint after the time limit.

Williamson, the retired bishop, and the alleged rapist have not contested the request, so these complaints will be considered, the Guardian said.

Michael told the Guardian that the lack of response makes the case doubly abusive. “I feel like I’ve been abused all over again,” he said.

He recalled being repeatedly raped as an “immature and naive” teenager who had been placed in the care of a vicar following family problems.

“I feel extremely ill, exhausted all the time, physically in pain, I can’t sit still, I can’t sleep,” he said. “I’m very cautious about who I trust. I’ve never had a proper relationship in my life.”

Michael dismissed the church’s claims that it had put in place proper safeguarding procedures. “They’re lying,” he said. “How many times have they said that? And nothing changes.”

A spokesperson for the four bishops said they were unable to comment on the specifics, but “if this complaint goes forward, our bishops will make a full response to the various allegations made in due course. In the meantime we continue to hold all victims of sexual abuse and exploitation in our prayers.”

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, where Williamson is now an honorary assistant bishop, said: “The Diocese places great emphasis on the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults and is committed to making church a safe place for everyone. We cannot comment during a live investigation except to say that if approached by the authorities we will offer them every co-operation. We continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse.”

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