Inquiry is launched into child protection in clergy

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AN official inquiry into child protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester has been launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lambeth Palace said it had been launched “in response to concerns within the diocese” in West Sussex but declined to expand on the background to the fears.

Current child protection arrangements will be scrutinised during the investigation, which follows concerns raised over the response by senior clergy to allegations of child abuse, and recommendations for the future will be made.

Dr Rowan Williams has appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to conduct the inquiry, which Lambeth Palace said had the backing of Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd Dr John Hind.

In July, it was announced that father-of-three Dr Hind will retire next April after 11 years as the 102nd Bishop of Chichester, having taken over in 2001 from Bishop Eric Kemp.

In a statement, Lambeth Palace said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury has set up an inquiry into the operation of the diocesan child protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester.

“He has appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to carry out the inquiry.

“They will advise the Archbishop on any steps that need to be taken to ensure the highest possible standards of safeguarding in the diocese.

“This will involve examining current child protection arrangements as well as making recommendations for the future. They will make a preliminary report to the Archbishop by the end of February 2012.”

A spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace – the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury since the 13th Century – refused to say whether the concerns related to current or historic child protection issues.

In May, a review found serious failings in the senior clergy after two priests could continue working despite being accused of serious child abuse offences.

Collin Pritchard was the vicar of St Barnabas, in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, until 2007, despite having been first reported to police for sex offences 10 years earlier. He was later jailed for sexually abusing two young boys.

One of the boys was also abused by Roy Cotton, a parish priest in Brede near Rye, but prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to charge him before he died in September 2006.

Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who was appointed by the Church of England to carry out an independent review, said across the diocese “and probably in many other dioceses” there had been “a lack of understanding of the seriousness of historic child abuse”.

Senior clergy, including bishops, were slow to act on information available to them and to assess the potential risk to children in the diocese, she said.

Baroness Butler-Sloss also found there was inadequate communication between senior clergy and child protection advisors in the diocese.

Following the report, Dr Hind apologised for the mistakes made in the past, saying he felt “deep and profound sorrow for the pain” of all the victims and the institutional failings of the diocese.

Dr Hind said in a statement: “Our diocesan staff have been in constant touch with Lambeth Palace over the last year and this is now the outcome of those discussions.

“We welcome this visitation as an opportunity to resolve a number of issues in the implementation of best safeguarding practice in the diocese and more widely, and should also contribute to the response of the Church to the pain that victims have experienced as a result of abuse.

“We trust that it will add to the progress the diocese has already made and will help continue to establish robust safeguarding practices.”

He added: “I expect full co-operation with the Archbishop’s commissaries.”