A review by the Diocese of Truro has shown that four bishops knew about child sex abuse by Jeremy Dowling, a lay preacher, teacher, former member of General Synod, and diocesan communications officer.

Dowling abused young boys while working as a teacher in the 1970s. He was jailed in 2015. The review said that several bishops were told about the abuse but took no action.

Accusations against Dowling were first made in 1972. The chairman of the board of governors at the school where Dowling was a teacher wrote to the Rt. Rev. Maurice Key, Bishop of Truro from 1960 to 1973. The report did not name the school in order to protect victims’ identities.

The complainant told the bishop that Dowling had admitted sex offenses against boys and offered to resign. Bishop Key said it was “a tragedy for Jeremy Dowling” and “a real blow for the school and the church,” and added: “The devil is certainly a master at attacking where he can do most harm.”

Key died in 1984. Some bishops succeeding Key knew about the allegations but did not investigate or take action against Dowling, the review found.

In 1986 there were complaints about Dowling to the Rt. Rev. Peter Mumford, Bishop of Truro from 1981 to 1989.

The Rt. Rev. Michael Ball (1990-97), his successor, said he was informed of the allegations but did not see the need for action because Dowling had not been prosecuted. Ball’s identical twin brother, Peter, was jailed in 2015 for a series of assaults on teenagers and young men.

A file found in the residence of the Bishop of Truro in 2013 was passed to the police, which led to Dowling’s prosecution.

The problem persisted because of “no external and independent oversight on issues of safeguarding children,” said David Greenwood, chairman of the campaign group Stop Church Child Abuse. “One cannot help think some child abusers are attracted to church organizations because they know they will receive favorable treatment if caught.”

“It is clear that abusive behavior flourishes where there is a culture of secrecy, and so it was important that we made the findings of this review widely available. We are committed to being transparent,” said the Rt. Rev. Chris Goldsmith, Bishop of St. Germans.

“My apology on behalf of the diocese to anybody who has suffered as a result of past failings is abject, sincere and heartfelt,” he added. “It was with a sense of disappointment, sorrow, and shame that we read of a failure to act and make any independent investigation of Jeremy Dowling after the initial allegations were made.”

John Martin

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