The Church of England and Church in Wales are bracing themselves for three official inquiries into how they handled cases of historic child sexual abuse. The first inquiry begins on March 5 and will last at least three weeks.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse says its work will include a case study into the Diocese of Chichester. The current Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, has admitted that a culture of “ineptitude and irresponsible lack of professionalism” previously existed in the diocese. The admission followed a slew of criminal cases and the jailing of former clergy.
Later in the year it will consider the case of Peter Ball, formerly Bishop of Lewes (a Chichester suffragan see) and later Bishop of Gloucester. That investigation will probe “whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal justice process after he was first accused of child sexual offenses.”
The inquiry was instigated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In recent years the Church has strengthened work on safeguarding at parish level. Every parish is now required to appoint a safeguarding officer as well as an advocate for children, backed by a safeguarding committee. Safeguarding is invariably an agenda item at every meeting of parochial church councils.
There are nevertheless worries about robustness of procedures, in particular where they concern historic cases. Allegations against the late Bishop George Bell (Bishop of Chichester, 1929-58) led to the church paying damages to a woman who claimed sexual abuse by Bell. This, however, triggered a high-profile campaign, with supporters of Bell insisting the church’s investigations were flawed.