Sentamu orders trawl of dead clergy files for abuse evidence

Archbishop Sentamu.
Archbishop Sentamu.
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THE Archbishop of York is launching an independent investigation into the records of hundreds of deceased clergy to trace any information that may exist relating to allegations of child abuse.

The dramatic move announced today will involve checking through records more than 60 years old.

It comes in the wake of claims Dr John Sentamu’s predecessor, Lord Hope of Thornes, covered up allegations of abuse against Robert Waddington, a former Dean of Manchester Cathedral.

All the files of deceased clergy who served in the Diocese of York from before 1950 to the present are to be recalled from the archives to be checked by an independent reviewer for any evidence of abuse.

Lord Hope, who was Archbishop of York between 1995 and 2005, has strongly denied all claims of negligence which followed reports he was twice told about allegations about Mr Waddington, who died from cancer five years ago after retiring to York in 1993.

Mr Waddington is alleged to have abused a chorister in Manchester in the 1980s and a schoolboy in Australia. It has previously been reported the former Archbishop spoke to Mr Waddington and banned him from taking services but did not report him to the police.

When the allegations first emerged in May, Lord Hope said throughout his time as both a bishop and an archbishop he “always adhered to the statutory practices of the Church of England concerning safeguarding”.

The independent review of historical records will run parallel to a separate independent inquiry led by Judge Sally Cahill QC into how the church handled the allegations surrounding Mr Waddington.

The issue of child abuse has become a key priority for the Church of England and last month the General Synod voted to apologise for past failings and to ensure steps are taken to make sure that victims of abuse are always actively listened to and offered support.

The Archbishop’s office said the decision to recall the records followed recognition that the protocol for the Church of England’s National Review of Past Cases of Child Abuse, which took place in 2008-9, had not included the files of deceased clergy. Any relevant material found will be used to help to inform the response of the Church and relevant statutory agencies to any allegations which may surface in relation to clergy who have since died.

Dr Sentamu said: “The damage done by the sexual abuse of children is immense, and the passage of time does not in itself bring healing.

“Where young people are shown to have been betrayed by individuals in a position of trust and by the institution’s failure to protect them, it is for the Church to acknowledge the hurt which has been done, to offer a full apology, and to prove, so far as is possible, that policies and practices are improved such that the same systemic failure could never be repeated.”

The Archbishop’s Chief of Staff, the Rev Malcolm Macnaughton, said: “Our priority now is to respond well to those who have the courage to come forward to say what happened to them. We want them to know that their story will be listened to, and that where the Church has been at fault this will be acknowledged.

“Because of policies now in place we believe that today’s young people are in a much safer position – but there is no room for complacency. So the message is – if anyone has information about known or suspected abuse – please do not hesitate to come forward.

“Where an alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse is still living, this should be reported directly to the police, or to the local safeguarding children panel. Where the alleged abuser has since died, those who were abused or who were aware of the abuse may still wish to come forward, and we would encourage them to do so.”

Anyone who wishes to report or provide information about known or suspected abuse in the Diocese of York can speak to one of the Archbishop’s male or female chaplains by calling 01904 707021.