Bishop Orders Abp. Sentamu to Step Back from Ministry

Archbishop Sentamu’s portrait as a member of the House of Lords. | Roger Harris, via Wikipedia

By Douglas LeBlanc

Because of his brief self-defense in response to a 58-page report on a priest who repeatedly raped a teenaged boy in 1984, the retired Archbishop of York has been ordered to step back from public ministry.

The report and Sentamu’s response to it were both understated, considering the nature of the charges against the Rev. Trevor Devamanikkam. The report said that Devamanikkam was charged with “six serious sexual [offenses]” on May 10, 2017. He was due in court one month later, but had committed suicide in his flat.

As the report’s title, “Independent Learning Lessons Review — Late Trevor Devamanikkam,” suggests, it is a mostly clinical review of what happened when, with frequent analysis by the report’s author, Jane Humphreys of JHSC Consultancy Limited, based in York.

The report mentions that Sentamu received a letter from the victim, Matthew Ineson, who was ordained as a priest by the time he wrote to Church of England leaders about the abuse he experienced. Sentamu was among the leaders who received a letter from Ineson. In Sentamu’s case, it was a copy of a letter Ineson had written to the Rt. Rev. Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield at the time, who is now Bishop of Oxford.

The report quoted Ineson as saying that Sentamu was the only person who responded to the letter, which also was copied to the President of Tribunals and the Bishop of Beverley. Sentamu wrote: “Thank you for copying me into the letter, which I have read. Please be assured of my prayers and best wishes during this testing time.”

“[T]he Independent Reviewer’s view is the Archbishop of York could have exercised some authority over the Bishop of Sheffield in this case,” the report said.

“The survivor had sent a copy of a letter to the Archbishop of York where he was clearly saying he had already disclosed twice to the Bishop of Sheffield his non-recent abuse and the Bishop had not acted on this. The Independent Reviewer cannot see how the Archbishop of York could have believed the Bishop of Sheffield would act on the survivor’s disclosures of abuse, given he had not previously.”

Sentamu responded with a one-page statement about the reviewer’s conclusions.

“I find myself in an unenviable position of having to reject the opinions of the Reviewer as set out in paragraphs 16.3.17 and 16.3.18 of her report. This is due to a fundamental misunderstanding on her part of the jurisdictional, pastoral, and legal responsibilities of Diocesan Bishops and Archbishops in the Church of England,” he wrote.

“I am saddened that a report that rightly seeks to review the workings of the church in order to learn lessons has demonstrated a lack of necessary understanding regarding the operation of dispersed authority in the Church of England. In addition I am disappointed that previous investigations and conclusions into this matter by the National Safeguarding Team, President of Tribunals, and [the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse] all seem to have been ignored or overlooked by the Reviewer.”

In response to Sentamu’s statement, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley of Newcastle announced that she required him to step down from ministry “until both the findings and his response can be explored further.” Sentamu has been serving as an honorary assistant bishop in Newcastle.

“The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, is fully supportive of this decision,” Hartley said in the statement. “The Diocese of Newcastle remains committed to the highest standards of safeguarding, which seeks always to place victims and survivors at the heart of this vital work.”


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